Less than a third of employers believe they have a true grip on the sickness absence situation experienced in their organisation over the last two years.
Just 29% of employers said they believed they had accurately recorded all employee sickness absence during the pandemic.
In contrast, almost as many employers (26%) were sure they had not got all the details they wanted, while 42% admitted they probably had correct records but were uncertain because of changes such as homeworking and furlough.
The figures came from a survey by Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing in September, where the consultant quizzed the 181 attendees to its employment webinar.
It also found that while it was useful, there was overwhelming demand from organisations to update the fit note used by doctors when signing people off sick.
Three-quarters (77%) were looking for improvements to the advice provided on fit notes, while just 2% felt no improvement was necessary.
However, Howden was encouraged that the vast majority (83%) indicated their organisation took note of any advice or recommendations made on the note.
Almost half of employers (48%) always followed and implemented any advice given, with another 23% taking note of some advice when it was felt to be relevant.
A further 12% used the fit note guidance as a starting point for their own investigations.
Reconsider how to measure absence
The consultant said it was vital to ensure absences were recorded properly and have the right benefits and support in place to return employees to health as quickly as possible.
Steve Herbert, head of benefits strategy at Howden, was not surprised so few organisations really felt they have a true understanding of their absence numbers since the start of the crisis, given the rapid introduction of home working and furlough.
“Yet recording and understanding absence numbers is a vital first step towards controlling workforce absenteeism and enables the employer to provide appropriate support to an ill employee at an early stage,” he said.
“So employers need to reconsider how they can measure absences, not least because flexible and remote working is likely to be a lasting legacy of the pandemic.”
Herbert (pictured) also recognised that while the initial plan for fit notes more than 10 years ago was a great idea give more detail and be less binary than the previous sick notes, there was still work to do.
“It’s clear that human resources professionals believe that fit notes often lack the detailed advice and guidance that would really help employers reduce sickness absence,” he continued.
“In particular it’s likely that guidance given is perhaps too generic and may not reflect the employee’s specific job role.”