Last year 137 million days were lost which works out at 4.3 days per person – down from 7.2 days in 1993 when the government started keeping records.
That means a sickness absence rate of 1.9% compared to the 3.1% in 1993.
Public sector sickness absence rates were 2.9%, down from 4.3%, contrasting with the private sector rate of 1.7%.
Public sector rates have always been higher than private sector which has been attributed to its generous sick pay schemes. The private sector rate is more like the rate in the US where until recently few workers got sickness benefits.
Within the public sector the NHS had the highest rate of sickness absence at 3.5%.
When I was a director of a large NHS Trust in the 1990s I was tasked with helping management reduce sickness absence (I had to convince the chairman that it was a line management responsibility which HR could support in different ways).
Carrying out quarterly surveys and publishing league tables I found that levels varied by occupation. Nurses had the highest rates of sickness absence, above 6%, whilst senior managers had the lowest at just over 1%. Admin staff were around the mean of 3.0%.
Taking that data alongside well-being surveys we carried out showed that nurses were the ones who smoked the most (and took off more single days) but managers drank more.
We introduced “first day reporting of sickness absence, in person to the line manager” where possible, “return to work interviews” when the person came back to work. Monthly reporting of sickness for everybody so we could calculate days lost, number of spells (occasions) and see suspicious patterns around weekends and bank holidays.
We also introduced No Smoking policies, Healthy Eating options, Stress Management programmes, a staff counselling service, provided a gym, a physiotherapist and yoga classes. We also had an occupational health service and offered air miles as a reward to people who didn’t take time off work through sickness.
Despite this mixture of approaches it wasn’t easy reducing the levels. The latest downturn has been particularly dramatic since the economic crash of 2007 and the ONS suggests that job insecurity is a significant factor. Zero hours contracts, currently at a their highest level, can’t be helping and there are more people working as self-employed. Who measures their sickness absence?
Other factors include the opportunity for some people to work from home when they are unwell rather than actually take a day off sick. In fact the TUC believes that far too many people go to work when they are ill and shouldn’t. And that argument has been strongly made for health care staff in contact with patients and you can see the point. Would you want someone sneezing all over you as you lay in your hospital bed?
The TUC say that over the Winter half a million people went into work despite feeling ill because they didn’t want to let down their clients, colleagues, or employer.
Twenty years ago, when I was involved in helping to manage the sickness absence problem, national data, produced at that time by professional bodies, showed that older workers took longer spells of absence whereas younger workers took off more short spells. The new ONS data shows that that is no longer true.
Older workers (over-65s) now take the most time off sick whereas workers aged 25-34 take off the fewest days with a 1.5% rate. The fact that people are still working after what used to be the normal retirement age also says something about the impact of the 2007 slump and people’s needs to top up poor pensions and keep themselves active.
Older workers are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses but not enough is done to adapt the work for them and lower productivity can be attributed to a lack of investment in training older employees.. BMW in Germany are a good example of what can be done to accommodate older workers and keep them productive,
As I said at the top of the post – there’s more to sickness absence than just the numbers.
At the end of 2016 we had the case of Katrina Percy, CEO of Southern Health Trust, who, after coming under severe criticism following the death by drowning of a vulnerable teenager, was seconded into a made-up job, for which there were no other candidates, on her existing salary. Public pressure eventually forced her to resign.
And her chairman Mike Potter resigned just before the publication of a damming report by the Care Quality Commission.
And then we had Mike Scott CEO of St George’s University NHS Trust which was put into special measures under his watch. Did he lose his job? No, he was seconded on his salary to the NHS Improvement team helping other Trusts (not to go into special measures presumably).
And his successor, Paula Vasco-Knight, had been the COO under him and you would think would bear some responsibility for the Trust’s deteriorating position. She only actually lasted two weeks in the CEO role before she was suspended after allegations of fraud by her previous employer Devon NHS Trust.
She’d already been severely criticised at an employment tribunal after the way she treated whistle-blowers who accused her of nepotism. She’d tried to play the race card at the tribunal but to no avail.
Interestingly at one time Mrs Vasco-Knight was NHS England’s national lead on equality and diversity matters, was the first female BME Chief Executive in the NHS, received an honorary doctorate in Law from Exeter University and a CBE in 2014 for her work on equality and diversity. So obviously ticking a lot of the right boxes.
And is that why people turned a blind eye and didn’t carry out proper checks before appointing herald then ignored her bullying behaviour?
I ask because this week it’s been revealed that a senior NHS boss built £1 million, 10-year career on a fake CV.
Jon Andrewes (photo on right from ITV) called himself a doctor and claimed to have two PhDs. One in ethics management from Plymouth University, and one in business administration from Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh.
He also claimed a master’s degree from Edinburgh and a degree from Bristol University, plus a diploma from CIMA.
He actually had a diploma in social work and had worked as a builder and probation officer and not, as he claimed, for the Home Office.
He got a job as CEO at St Margaret’s Hospice in Somerset in 2004 and was later appointed to the job of Chairman of the NHS Torbay Care Trust in 2007. In 2015 he beat 117 others to become Chairman of the Royal Cornwall NHS Trust.
Andrewes, aged 63, admitted obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception (when applying for the Torbay and Cornwall jobs) and two counts of fraud (at St Margaret’s hospice). He was jailed for two years and an application has been made to seize his assets.
The Department of Health says it is examining how he came to be appointed to posts such as chairman of the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust.
After he was convicted, NHS Improvement admitted that it had not checked his qualifications when it appointed Andrewes under its previous guide of the NHS Trust Development Authority. I wonder if anybody in HR is being disciplined for that oversight?
The Department of Health said:
Last September I asked on my other blog: Have we finally realised we need to unplug ourselves from endless apps and social media connections?
I described the Light Phone and the fact that the old Nokia 3310 from 2000 was selling well on the internet. Now it’s been announced that the Nokia will be sold again with a larger colour screen but with only basic call and text facilities for around £49 in the UK.
It seems that the smartphone idea was being dumbed-down. Is that a bad idea?
Well in the Times Body & Soulsection last weekend they asked “is your smartphone making you stupid?.”
Arianna Huffington‘s book “Thrive: The third metric to redefining success and creating a happier life”
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Now a new study by the University of Sussex has found that discrimination occurs when candidates refer to membership of gay associations in their CVs.
But not in the direction you might expect.
400 participants were shown fictitious CVs. One was clearly from a lesbian, one from a gay man and the other two from a straight man and woman. The CVs were identical in terms of qualifications and experience except for a reference to membership of a gay professional association.
The researchers found that female managers were more likely to pick gay and lesbian candidates whereas men were more likely to pick straight candidates.
Benjamin Everly from the university’s School of Management & Economics said the findings suggest employers should consider carefully who was making their recruitment decisions. “These results show that bias against gay men and lesbians is much more nuanced than previous work suggests“. He could have said that there is evidence of bias against heterosexual candidates, by women, but that might not have sounded so PC.
He thought “Hiring decisions made by teams of both men and women could lead to less biased decisions”. He though that the findings could influence when and how gay men and lesbians disclosed their sexual orientation in the recruitment process.
The report in the Times doesn’t say what job the fictitious candidates were applying for or from what sectors the 400 participants came from. It’s possible they were students at the Business School but I don’t know that.
However research at Anglia Ruskin University suggested that at graduate entry level gay men received the fewest invitations of interview in traditional male occupations such as accountancy, banking,finance, and management and lesbians received fewer invitations for shortlisting in traditionally female occupations like social care, social services and charity work.
Recruiters are notoriously bad as selecting the right person for the job and the whole process is about discriminating against unsuitable candidates. Many people in recruitment have not been trained appropriately (worryingly the Sussex study refers to managers not HR people) and line managers are often the worst as seen recently in the steakhouse incident.
Leaving sexual orientation aside (and is Sussex going to replicate the research across the whole gender fluid/LGBT spectrum?) men and women have been shown to be discriminated against just on the basis of their looks, with women rejecting attractive female candidates and insecure men rejecting good-looking men.
Interestingly the recruitment process for the new head of the Metropolitan Police included psychometric testing, probably for the first time. (Don’t know what they used but hope it wasn’t the MBTI or DISC).
Perfectionists have high personal standards and are highly self-critical. The personality trait is often associated with conscientiousness (a strong predictor of success), virtue, and high achievement.
However far from giving themselves a competitive edge, it can lead to poorer performance at work.
The trait is also closely associated with burnout – a syndrome associated with chronic stress which manifests as extreme fatigue, perceived reduced accomplishment, and eventual detachment.
I once coached a person who was such a perfectionist and who worked in a PR role for a company that was about to go public. There was a lot of pressure on her so her boss gave her an assistant who was a graduate but had a poor grasp of English grammar and spelling (why does that not surprise me these days?) The result was that she increased her workload double checking all the work done by her new assistant. End result – burnout. She left the company and eventually found satisfaction working as a freelancer.
In work setting where poor performance has negative outcomes perfectionist tendencies can be exacerbated. “Rather than being more productive perfectionists are likely to find the workplace quite difficult and stressful. If they are unable to cope with demands and uncertainty in their workplace they will experience a range of emotional difficulties” said Andrew Hill, associate professor at York St Johns.
His co-researcher at Bath, sports lecturer Thomas Grant, said “As a society we tend to hold perfectionism as a sign of virtue or high achievement. Yet our findings show that perfectionism is a largely destructive trait. Instead diligence, flexibility and perseverance are far better qualities“.
Perfectionists need to have better work-life balance and less pressurised working environments together with a greater acceptance of failure in order to mitigate the negative effects associated with perfectionism.
The Resolution Foundation think tank has warned the government that they must respond to the pent-up frustration of this generation which earned less than Generation Xers (born 1960-80).
“The long-held belief that each generation should do better than the last is under threat. Millennials today are the first to earn less than their predecessors“.
It’s not so surprising when you think about. Although the think tank blames the shift to higher skilled roles that’s not the only factor at work.
Globalisation has meant many jobs are off-shored or contracted out to low-cost countries, structural change and the reduction in traditional male jobs in manufacturing, mining, and steel, better educated women competing in the job market, and of course increased automation – of which there is more to come.
Another factor has been the loss of middle management jobs through de-layering thereby reducing opportunities for promotion, exacerbated by older workers staying at work longer, either to eke out their pensions or to keep themselves active. again slowing down job progression.
So it is what it is. Damian Green, the work and pensions minister told Age UK that a generational war was futile. Everyone gets old some day and “ultimately you don’t help young people by impoverishing older people”.
Maybe we just have to recalibrate our thinking and modify our expectations.
But in these days of reputational damage they can’t afford to actually insult candidates on social media.
All the national press this week covered the story of a teenager who applied for a job at a new Miller & Carter steakhouse (owned by Mitchell & Butlers).
Megan Dixon asked at the end of the interview when they would let her know and was told by the assistant manager Shantel Wesson, who had interviewed her, that she would get an e-mail in a few days. To her surprise, and dismay, she received a text within minutes saying “it’s a no x” (why managers would add a kiss to a text message is beyond me).
Dixon replied “Okay. How come? x” (and there’s that kiss again for goodness sake).
Shantel Wesson then replied “Just not engaging. And answers we’re “like” basic” followed by a ‘laughing so hard I’m crying’ emoji and another kiss.
Naturally Dixon was upset and complained to the company on twitter saying the interviewer was unprepared and her phone was going off throughout the interview. So unprofessional.
She then told The Sun newspaper about the interview: “She didn’t even shake my hand, didn’t have my CV out and was just sat drinking a coffee. Maybe because I’m 18 she thinks it’s OK not to be professional with me? I don’t know.”
“It was so rude. At the end of the interview, I asked when I would hear back. She told me it was never more than a few days and she had my email. But I got the texts a few seconds after leaving”
“I was shocked. The least she should have given me was some proper feedback. And the laughing face emoji was so unprofessional. It was a really bitchy thing to do.”
Miller and Carter had advertised up to 50 jobs at the new branch in Enderby, Leicestershire, and student Ms Dixon wanted to earn some extra cash for college.
Newspapers explained that the term “basic” was American slang meaning an unstylish or unintelligent person.
A spokeswoman said “we can’t apologise enough to Megan. It was never our intention to be disrespectful or upset her in any way. The texts were sent in error and were intended for our manager, not the candidate. However, we expect our team to act professionally at all times and to give constructive feedback after any interview via email. We are taking this extremely seriously and will be investigating to ensure it never happens again.”
In anyone’s book this is totally unprofessional behaviour. Candidates deserve respect and proper feedback – something sadly lacking these days.
And what does it say about the culture of the company that managers send each other such mocking text messages? If it were indeed actually intended for the manager.
HR probably doesn’t exist in this company but if it did some recruitment training seems well overdue,and possibly some disciplinary action against Wesson for bringing the company into disrepute?
Talking of being “basic” perhaps Shantel Wesson could take some English lessons as she obviously doesn’t know the difference between “were” and “we’re“.
And Megan, you’re young but don’t put kisses on business messages. You act professionally as well.
It seems a life-time ago when stress management courses were de rigueur and people, including me, were making a living from them. (Now it’s either resilience training or mindfulness but that’s another story).
There was plenty of research about to back up what we were doing. The famous Whitehall studies which showed that the more senior you were the less likely you were to die early. In industry after industry it was the same story. Employees at the bottom of the hierarchy suffered more ill-health than more senior ones.
One of the factors contributing to this was the amount of control people had – over decision-making and the way they spent their working day. The more control or autonomy people felt they had, the less stressed they tended to be.
Now a recent study in the US has confirmed once again that people in stressful jobs with little control at work were more likely to die.
The research followed more than 2,000 Americans in their sixties over a seven-year period.
Those in low demand jobs reduced their death risk by 15% and those who were able to set their own goals and had flexibility at work were 34% less likely to die.
They also found that the people in the higher risk jobs were heavier. Comfort eating? Less time for exercise?
26% of those who dies were in front-line service jobs and 32% worked in manufacturing – both sectors with high demand and low autonomy.
55% of the deaths were from cancer (linked this week with high levels of anxiety and depression), and 22% from circulatory system diseases.
Erik Gonzales-Mulé at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University said employers didn’t need to reduce demand on their workers but should allow them more flexibility in how jobs were done. “You can avoid the negative health consequences if you allow them to set their own goals. set their own schedules, prioritise their decision-making and the like”.
I’m having deja vu here.This is like re-inventing the wheel. We knew all this decades ago. Remember autonomous working groups? Have American businesses forgotten about US contributions to organisational psychology and research on motivation? In America most workers still don’t get sick pay or maternity pay and have minimal holidays.
Japan has its own problems with employees working too hard (see recent post)
And we aren’t much better in some respects in the UK with the worst sick pay in the EU!
Recently experts and members of parliament have expressed concern about working conditions in call centres and on-line distribution centres. Sports Direct and Asos have been criticised for having Victorian working conditions. Some of these places are like “warehouses” on the edge of towns with no windows for natural light, just like giant container units.
Perhaps I should brush off my old notes and get back on the road again. Why do businesses never learn how to get the best out of people?
Dame Athene Donald who is a master of Churchill College (isn’t that a bit sexist?) and a professor of experimental physics says references are often unintentionally written in a “gendered way” with academics more likely to describe women applying for research posts or fellowships as “hard-working” or “team players“.
She thinks this fails to communicate just how good female applicants are unlike when using words like “excellent“, “driven” or “outstanding” which apparently are often reserved for males.
She said “If letter writers just sit down and write the first adjectives that come into their heads to describe men and women, the words may be poles apart even if the subjects of the letters are indistinguishable in ability”.
“Do you really mean that your star PhD student is hard-working and conscientious or was the message you wanted to convey that she was outstanding, goes the extra mile, and always exceeds your expectations about what is possible, demonstrating great originality en route? There is an enormous difference in the impact of the two descriptions“.
She believes that this clearly can lead to a significant detriment to the woman’s progression, even if without a sexist intent.
Stanford University analysed performance reviews in technology firms and found that women’s evaluations contained almost twice as much language about their communal or nurturing style using words such as “helpful” or “dedicated”.
Men’s reviews on the other hand contained twice as many references to their technical expertise and vision.
Why is this surprising? Do people like Dame Donald think men and women actually behave the same at work? Of course there is an overlap but there is enough research which shows that women respond to stress differently, are often better at soft skills than men, can improve teams, and may be more emotionally intelligent to boot.
Professor Donald suggested that people writing references should use a gender bias calculator website that highlights words in texts that may be received as gendered. She also calls for training for selection panels – something most organisations have been doing for decades (my colleague and I introduced this into an NHS Trust back in the 1990s). I think she means well if a little too PC but maybe a bit out of touch with the real world.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education at Buckingham University disagrees with her. He is quoted as saying “How do we know that academics using these words have unconscious bias? being a team player and hard worker are very important. It is perfectly possible that candidates do have these strengths and it is important that a referee is able to say so”
Common sense from one academic at least. And read what happened when a journalist investigated this issue for himself.