Fit notes aid communication with staff, but do not reduce absence, CIPD/Simplyhealth survey shows

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The introduction of the ‘fit note’ to replace the ‘sick note’ has provided the nudge needed for managers to open up important conversations with their staff and discuss the best way to help get individuals back to work, bit employers remain unconvinced that the fit note has yet had much impact in helping to reduce levels of employee sickness absence.

More than half of employers (52%) agree that the introduction of the fit note has enabled line managers to prompt conversations about absence and health issues with their staff, according to findings from the CIPD/Simplyhealth Absence Management survey.

These follow the publication of recommendations from the Government-commissioned independent review into sickness absence, which highlights the importance of helping employees that are off work sick to make supported and phased returns to work - for example, with the help of a new Independent Assessment Service.

Just under a third of the organisations (31%) questioned in the CIPD/Simplyhealth survey agreed the fit note helps line managers to manage absence more effectively.

The vast majority of employers (87%) have used the fit note in their organisations, however its use was less common in smaller businesses of less than 50 employees (54%).

Less encouragingly, just one in ten respondents (11%) said the fit note had reduced absence in their organisation. And with the same number of employers believing the fit note is being used effectively by GPs, there is clearly a disconnect between employers' needs and current outcomes.

Jill Miller, CIPD adviser, said: "Our research reveals the value fit notes can have in promoting good quality conversations between managers and their employees, which has a positive impact on the management of absence. However, the survey suggests the fit note has yet to have a real impact on reducing absence levels. This is perhaps not surprising considering the culture change needed by GPs, employers and employees to ensure that a phased return-to-work is more frequently regarded as a positive and integral part of employees' rehabilitation and recovery.

"We are seeing some positive reviews of the fit note from GPs, but employers do not share such a warm view at present. GPs and employers need to work from the same page, promoting what is best for the individual employee's health and well-being, but also what makes sense for the business. Employees too need to be more forthcoming and willing to enter these discussions. Policy makers, however, should not be discouraged as it may well take five years or so before the fit note is consistently used effectively and viewed more favourably by GPs, employers and employees, to support early and lasting returns to work."

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