health & social care

Effectively Reducing Sickness Absence

health & social care

08:45 - 15:40

Tuesday 26 March 2019

Hallam Conference Centre, Central London

This Forum provides the opportunity to explore effective strategies for successfully managing and reducing sickness absence in the workplace. With a combination of key organisations and stakeholders, attendees will discuss putting in place proactive, person-centred, preventative absence management policies and addressing key areas of concern including presenteeism and managing employee’s return to work. In addition, participants will learn from transferable best practice case studies about successfully reducing absence levels, considering the crucial role of mental health support and HR staff in sensitively and appropriately responding to well-being concerns to promote positive well-being in the workplace.


This Forum is designed for the wider public and voluntary sectors. Typical job titles will include:

  • HR Managers & Advisers
  • HR Directors & Business Partners
  • Heads of Employee Relations
  • Directors of Workforce & Organisational Development
  • Occupational Health Managers
  • Workplace Wellbeing Leads
  • Health and Safety Teams

This Forum is also open to the Private Sector to encourage discussion and networking.

Key Speakers Confirmed:
  • Senior Representative, Work and Health Unit, Department for Work and Pensions
  • Lesley Giles, Director, The Work Foundation 
  • Victoria Sapsford, Regional Director – South East, London & East, ACAS
View the agenda and additional speakers

Public Health England’s publication Working for a Healthier Tomorrow: Work and Health in Britain states that the total costs for worklessness and sickness absence are upwards of £100 billion annually. In addition, research by Employee Benefits and Health Shield has found that the number of organisations without a sickness absence reduction strategy has risen to 35% in 2018, an increase of 11% on the previous year.

In November 2017, the Department for Health and Department for Work and Pensions published Improving Lives: The Future of Work, Health and Disability. This paper outlined the need for inclusive employers that provide effective support for individuals seeking to return to work, removing barriers and recognising and responding appropriately to individual circumstances. Following an internal review of the fit note the government has announced its intention to reform this measure whilst creating a more joined up approach between workplaces and health services.

Further priorities include an increased focus on prevention and the role of high-quality occupational health services. Moreover it is clear that stigma around mental health and inadequate support for workers with mental health must be addressed, with the Mental Health Foundation finding that 70 million work days are lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK, at a total yearly economic cost to employers of £2.4 billion per year.



Dr Jermaine Ravalier, Organisational Psychologist, Bath Spa University

Dr Jermaine Ravalier is Reader in Work and Wellbeing (Psychology) at Bath Spa University. He is co-director of the Centre for Health and Cognition at the university, and has research expertise in the area of mental health and wellbeing at work. In particular Dr Ravalier works with public sector employees – social workers, NHS staff, and teachers – across the globe, with his research impacting at individual, organisational, and political levels. Overall, therefore, his work seeks to improve working conditions for public sector employees, with this subsequently improving mental health and wellbeing.


Registration, Refreshments and Networking


Chair's Welcome Address

Dr Jermaine Ravalier, Organisational Psychologist, Bath Spa University (CONFIRMED)


Morning Keynote: The Government's Vision for Successfully Supporting Staff Health and Reducing Sickness Absence

  • What has been achieved following the Work, Health and Disability Green Paper: Improving Lives 2017, and what more needs to be done?
  • Outlining changes to workplace health policy following the ending of the national Fit-for-Work assessment scheme
  • Sharing updates on plans to move forward with the design and development of a set of competencies for those completing fit notes
  • Highlighting key concerns that remain to be addressed
  • Looking to the future: Exploring changes to managing sickness absence on the horizon

Senior Representative, Work and Health Unit, Department for Work and Pensions (CONFIRMED)


Special Keynote: Meeting the Public Health Challenge of Sickness Absence

  • Sharing best practice information and guidance on how best to improve employee health and wellbeing and reduce sickness absence
  • Exploring guidance on Workplace Health: Applying All Our Health published in April 2018 and how this can be effectively applied in the workplace
  • Assessing how public sector organisations can utilise the Return on Investment tool to maximise the effectiveness of workplace mental health interventions
  • Examining the benefits for public sector organisations choosing to sign up to the Workplace Wellbeing Charter

Senior Representative, Public Health England (invited)


Questions and Answers Session


Refreshments and Networking


Case Study: Taking a Person-Centred Approach to Drastically Reduce Sickness Absence

  • Sharing lessons from the process of developing an attendance management strategy that is person-centred as opposed to process orientated
  • Fostering a culture of trust and engagement by working with staff and trade union representatives
  • Reducing sickness absence by 11% in 12 months – the equivalent of 40 staff on duty each day
  • Upskilling staff through recognising and utilising the skill set NHS managers have to support patients and staff
  • Empowering staff with the flexibility to use judgement and knowledge – introducing the concept of ‘Know Your Staff’)
  • Highlighting the importance of good communication throughout the process and taking a compassionate approach

Ashley Judd, Deputy Director of Workforce, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (CONFIRMED)


Case Study: Focusing on Mental Health to Drastically Reduce Sickness Absence

  • Successfully reducing long-term sickness absence rates by over 50% since 2014/15 by implementing fitness and rehabilitation policies to help employees return to work
  • Sharing lessons from the process of developing the ‘Positive Mental Health and Wellbeing’ and ‘Critical Incident Stress Management’ policies after in-depth research and how this has supported staff with high-stress jobs
  • Tackling the stigma surrounding mental health and working to ensure all staff feel able to access support especially after critical incidents
  • Creating a team of ‘Debriefers’ who offer immediate support following potentially traumatic incidents and how these have helped to draw immediate attention to any welfare concerns
  • Exploring how the use of ‘Debriefers’ has been implemented for other blue light services within Liverpool including police and ambulance services

Kelly Patterson, Senior Occupational Health Officer and Mental Health Lead, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service  (CONFIRMED)


Case Study: Implementing a Vigorous Sickness Absence Policy to Ensure All Absence is Addressed

  • Discussing how University Hospital Southampton was able to reduce their sickness absence to 3.39% through implementing rigid policies and procedures to ensure all absences are addressed early to prevent further absences
  • Exploring how offering wellbeing activities such as yoga can be an effective method of increasing staff wellbeing and satisfaction
  • Understanding the importance of training managers on how to deal with sickness and follow robust sanctioning procedures within their own team and the impact this has had on reducing short term sickness absence
  • Sharing guidance on how to implement a disability leave policy to support employees with long term illness and how creating robust policy outlines for this helped employees know what support they were entitled to

Rosemary Green, HR Employee Relations Service Manager, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust (CONFIRMED)


Questions and Answers Session


Lunch and Networking


Afternoon Keynote: Sharing Guidance on Effectively Managing Sickness Absence

  • Discussing steps that organisations can take to prevent sickness absence through identifying activities that may cause further occurrences of absence
  • Examining the process of guideline development and key considerations when evaluating what works with regards to supporting employees’ return to work
  • Exploring best practice guidance in supporting individuals on long-term sickness absence to re-enter the workplace
  • Assessing effective strategies that organisations can implement to identify early warning signs of sickness such as monitoring patterns in short term sickness absence that may lead to long term sickness absence
  • Highlighting the importance of upskilling line managers to make appropriate, sensitive decisions: How can this be achieved in practice?

Senior Representative, NICE (invited)


Special Keynote: What More Must Employers Do to Successfully Reduce Sickness Absence

  • Exploring conclusions from ‘More than ‘Women’s Issues’ – women’s reproductive and gynaecological health and work’  and ‘Men’s mental health and work: The case for a gendered approach to policy’
  • Balancing the specific health needs of all genders when developing absence management policies
  • Outlining the role of HR in providing high-quality guidance and support on self-management approaches
  • Highlighting the importance of good line management in retaining and supporting staff with long-term conditions: what are the key components of this?
  • How employers can develop inclusive flexible working policies to reduce sickness absence whilst retaining productivity
  • What constitutes appropriate best practice absence management from a line management perspective: Avoiding common pitfalls

Lesley Giles, Director, The Work Foundation (CONFIRMED)


Questions and Answers Session


Refreshments and Networking


Case Study: Tackling the Disability Employment Gap - Evidence of What Works

  • Exploring the recent developments in policy to tackle the disability employment gap, and to reduce health and mental health related inactivity
  • Examining early evidence of how the Work and Health Programme is performing
  • Highlighting the lessons from the Learning and Work Institute’s evaluations of employment support for those with disabilities or health/mental health conditions, and the key findings of their research in this area

Joe Dromey, Deputy Director, Learning and Work Institute (CONFIRMED)


Special Keynote: Outlining ACAS Guidance on Effectively Complying with Absence Management Procedure

  • Discussing how to manage short and long term sickness absence and what workers will expect from their employers
  • Exploring how to tackle presenteeism and how this can be as detrimental to productivity as absenteeism
  • Assessing the legal responsibility that employers to have to protect the wellbeing of their employees at work including reducing emotional and psychological pressures
  • Understanding the importance of ‘Return to Work’ discussions and what employers are legally obligated to do if an employee is disabled or has become disabled
  • Highlighting the need for organisations to design and implement comprehensive and proactive health and wellbeing policies
  • Discussing the legalities of absence management procedure and what compliance looks like

Victoria Sapsford, Regional Director – South East, London & East, ACAS (CONFIRMED)


Questions and Answers Session


Panel Discussion: Exploring How to Create a Comprehensive Wellbeing Policy

Join expert speakers to assess how organisations can implement comprehensive wellbeing policies to combat sickness absence. Topics of discussion will include: 

  • Implementing wellbeing strategies that reduce preventable absence by creating a healthy workforce
  • Highlighting how organisations  can take a proactive approach to employee wellbeing in order to minimise sickness absence
  • Exploring the importance of the implementing mindfulness and resilience techniques to help combat stress-related illness
  • Discussing the key challenges to improving mental wellbeing in the workplace and how to overcome these to improve sickness absence
  • Highlighting common challenges and effective solutions to successful sickness absence management

Gillian Connor, Head of Policy & Development, Rethink Mental Illness (CONFIRMED)

Tracey Connage, Head of Organisational Development, London Borough of Lambeth (CONFIRMED)

Karen Taylor, Director, UK Centre for Health Solutions, Deloitte (CONFIRMED)



Chair's Summary and Close

*programme subject to change

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