health & social care

Effectively Reducing Sickness Absence

health & social care

08:45 - 15:40

Tuesday 26 March 2019

Central London

This Forum provides a timely opportunity to explore the latest strategies for successfully managing and reducing staff sickness absence, putting in place proactive, person-centred absence management policies and address key areas of concern including presenteeism and managing an employee’s return to work. Participants will learn from best practice case studies from across the Public Sector where drastic reductions in absence levels have been achieved, and consider the crucial role of mental health support and upskilling of HR staff to sensitively and appropriately respond to individual needs.


This Forum is designed for the wider Public Sector. Typical job titles will include:

  • HR Managers and Advisers
  • Heads of Employee Relations
  • Directors of Workforce and Organisational Development
  • Heads of Occupational Health
  • Policy Leads
  • Well-being Managers
  • Project Managers
  • Welfare and Wellbeing Leads
  • Staff Support Managers
  • Health and Safety Teams

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

Key Speakers Confirmed:
  • Senior Representative, Work and Health Unit, Department for Work and Pensions
  • Avril Cooper, Deputy Director, People Directorate – HR Operations & Occupational Health, Public Health England 
  • Lesley Giles, Director, The Work Foundation 
  • Victoria Sapsford, Regional Director – South East, London & East, ACAS
View the agenda and additional speakers


Registration, Refreshments and Networking


Chair's Welcome Address

Jessica Studdert, Deputy Director, New Local Government Network (invited)


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

  • Examining the next steps following Work, Health and Disability Green Paper: Improving Lives November 2017
  • 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
  • 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 Staff Sickness Absence

  • Sharing best practice information and guidance to improve employee health and wellbeing and reduce sickness absence
  • Exploring guidance on Workplace Health: Applying All Our Health published in April 2018
  • 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

Avril Cooper, Deputy Director, People Directorate – HR Operations & Occupational Health, Public Health England (CONFIRMED)


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 absence management strategy that is person-centred as opposed to process orientated
  • Reducing sickness absence by 11% in 12 months: The equivalent of 37 staff on duty each day
  • Fostering a culture of trust and engagement by working with staff representatives
  • Upskilling staff through recognising the skill set NHS managers have to support patients: empowering them with the flexibility to use their judgement and knowledge of the 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 (invited)


Case Study: Fostering a Co-operative Ethos to Improve Staff Physical and Mental Health

  • Examining how Oldham’s commitment to being a co-operative borough raises the quality of mental health support at work
  • Outlining the ethos of the ‘Fit for Oldham’ programme: Supporting staff in the council to increase physical activity and focus on mental health
  • Sharing lessons learned from the introduction of a range of initiatives to support staff, including a choir, walking groups, and mindfulness training
  • Undertaking a sustainable evidence-based approach with buy-in from senior management
  • Assessing the impact of Oldham’s approach to sickness absence and the feedback from staff taking place in the ‘Fit for Oldham’ scheme

Helen Lockwood, Deputy Chief Executive – People and Places, Oldham Council (invited)


Case Study: Working in Partnership with the Voluntary Sector to Deliver Best Practice in Mental Health Support

  • Recognising that the traditional referrals process for physical health was not fit for purpose, and developing an equivalent tailored process for mental health
  • Introducing psychological assessments by clinical psychologists who evaluate the specific impact on the individual’s role
  • Harnessing these assessments to explore what tailored support could be helpful to an individual in enabling their return to work
  • Collaborating with Rethink Mental Illness to co-produce wellness recovery action plans (WRAPs) with staff experiencing chronic mental ill-health
  • Providing alternative avenues of support should staff not feel able to discuss with their manager in the form of trained Wellbeing Officers
  • Upskilling managers to feel confident when talking about mental health and training them to become mental health first-aid champions

Paddy Lorenzen, Health and Wellbeing Manager, Norfolk County Council (invited)


Questions and Answers Session


Lunch and Networking


Afternoon Keynote: Sharing Guidance on Effectively Managing Sickness Absence

  • Sharing progress of plans to update Workplace Health: Long-Term Sickness Absence and Capability to Work guidance due to be published September 2019
  • 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
  • Highlighting the importance of upskilling line managers to make appropriate, sensitive decisions: How can this be achieved in practice?

Professor Gillian Leng, Deputy Chief Executive and Health and Social Care Director, The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) (invited)


Special Keynote: Developing Inclusive Policies to Successfully Reduce Sickness Absence - What More Must Employers Do?

  • Exploring conclusions from ‘More than ‘Women’s Issues’ – women’s reproductive and gynaecological health and work’ 
  • Outlining how HR professionals can provide 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

Lesley Giles, Director, The Work Foundation (CONFIRMED)


Questions and Answers Session


Refreshments and Networking


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

  • Successfully reducing long-term sickness absence rates by over 50% since 2014/15
  • Sharing lessons from the process of developing the ‘Positive Mental Health and Wellbeing’ and ‘Critical Incident Stress Management’ policies after in-depth research and engagement with staff
  • Tackling the stigma surrounding mental health and working to ensure all staff feel able to access support
  • Creating a team of ‘Debriefers’ who offer immediate support following potentially traumatic incidents

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


Closing Keynote: Outlining ACAS Guidance on How to Effectively Manage Employee Sickness Absense

  • 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
  • Understanding the importance of ‘Return to Work’ discussions and what employers should seek to gain from these conversations
  • Highlighting the need for organisations to design and implement comprehensive and proactive health and wellbeing policies

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


Questions and Answers Session


Chair's Summary and Close

*programme subject to change

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.



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