Better managers the key to reducing NHS absence

The CIPD says the Government won't save £555m on NHS sickness absence without a management revolution.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

This week’s Budget was pretty light on specifics about how the Government plans to slash public spending – inevitably, since there’s an Election looming. However, some of the departments did identify a few potential cuts. Health, for instance, says it can save £555m by reducing sickness absence in the NHS - although the Government has been pretty vague about exactly how it will find this impressive (and suspiciously precise) sum. Happily, the CIPD agrees that there is plenty of room for improvement in the NHS. The trouble is, it may require a complete overhaul of people management practises within the UK’s biggest employer…

The CIPD (that’s the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, to the uninitiated) quite agrees that something needs to be done about NHS absence: its research apparently shows that NHS staff take an average of 11 days off per year, which is 1.3 days above the public sector average, and a whole 4.6 days (i.e. basically a week) more than the private sector average. Now you might argue that since a good proportion of NHS staff spend their whole time around sick people, that’s not entirely surprising. Nonetheless, the CIPD reckons this is still too high, and claims that it can be reduced.

How, exactly? Well, the first step, it says, is for the NHS to borrow some ideas from the private sector on ways to improve absence management. For instance, public sector organisations are apparently much less likely to discipline staff for absence-related reasons, and they tend to have much more generous sick pay policies (presumably because they’re so terrified of being sued). As a result, staff have less incentive to get back to work than in the private sector. So tightening up the rules should help.

However, the CIPD reckons the problem’s actually broader than that: it argues that the big savings will only come from ‘better people management across the board’. In other words, health professionals promoted to senior roles need to get better at stuff like tackling poor performance, resolving conflicts, supporting employee wellbeing, and other such staples of good management.

The NHS is always going to have a problem with absence – partly because it’s so big and sprawling, and partly because front-line staff have pressurised, high-stress jobs surrounded by germs. But having better managers – which normally results in happier and more engaged staff – would clearly help.

In today's bulletin:

BA boss takes hard line on perks as academics stick their oar in
Canadian pensioners' numbers come up on National Lottery
Times launches paywall - but Independent to go free?
Better managers the key to reducing NHS absence
MT meets the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year

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