The first sign of mince pies hitting the shelves says it all.
Business is desperate to grasp on to anything that may drag it out of the economic mire that is the past year, even if it means Christmas now starts in September. For there is not much to cheer about as the Eurozone goes into meltdown, America struggles to keep itself out of a double-dip recession and even the biggest brands those meant to be leading us out of recession, such as Procter & Gamble and Diageo shed jobs.
As growth predictions continue to plummet, we await any small indication from George Osborne that he has something up his sleeve to stimulate the economy. In such times, slashing prices (Tesco), using technology to cut costs (Premier Foods) or culling jobs as a result of a takeover bid (Uniq) are standard fare. But there is a limit to how much restructuring, downsizing or general cost-cutting a business can do without damaging its brand and, more importantly, its future sustainability.
The opportunity to rethink our sickness absence system may lead to measures that combine sustainability with cost reduction. Later this month, Dame Carol Black, national director for Health and Work, and David Frost, former director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, report to government on their independent sickness absence review. This review explores how the sickness absence system could be changed to help people stay in work and reduce overall costs. It examines whether costs are shared appropriately between the state, employers and individuals and will make recommendations for system change. Announcing the review back in February, David Cameron said: “We simply have to get to grips with the sick-note culture that means a short spell of sickness absence can far too easily become a gradual slide to a life of long-term benefit dependency.”
So we are waiting to see if the “appropriate” shared costs element will result in employers taking more of the burden obviously unwelcome. But, on the whole, this review should help reduce the £100bn cost of sickness absence a cost to employers made up of statutory sick payments, staff turnover, overtime, management time and occupational health, among others.
What is important here is not just that tackling sickness absence will help the huge financial burden on the taxpayer and on business, but that a healthier workforce will perform better and be more engaged and more resilient. Business does not like government interference. But investing in the health of your staff is not about altruism, nor is it an additional handicap. It is about cost-cutting, higher performance and value creation.
What business does not want that?
Siân Harrington is editor of Human Resources magazine