· Features

Hot topic: sign off the sick note?

David Frost, former director general, British Chamber of Commerce and Dame Carol Black, national director for health and work, have presented to the Government their independent review aimed at reducing the cost of sickness to employers. They recommend an Independent Assessment Service (IAS) to which employers and GPs can refer long-term sickness absence cases, for bespoke advice. They predict employers could save £100 million each year from reductions to sick pay bills from using this service. Our pundits debate...

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School

The recommendations will help take the load off GPs, who may not understand the workplace context and have found it difficult to determine the appropriate 'fit note' response, or to provide support to help long-term sick who cannot return to work.

It suggests removing the assessment phase of the Employment and Support Allowance. This could make it easier for those that need the benefit to get it.

These recommendations seem sensible in providing support for those who need it, and putting pressure on those who could return to work. My concern is for those suffering from mental health issues, which in terms of incapacity benefit represents 40% of the total, remembering also that stress-related absence is now the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK.

I am worried people may take on jobs that will exacerbate their mental health problems, particularly when returning to an employer - or in finding a match with a new one.

Sonia Wolsey-Cooper, membership and people director, Axa PPP Healthcare

The proposals are a timely spur to HR professionals to review their approaches to managing health and wellbeing.

With sickness absence costing the UK £37 billion annually, the introduction of an independent capability assessment service is welcome.

But fixing what's broken is only half the picture. As a company that strives to be a great place to work, we know the gains from 'pre-habilitation': taking a proactive approach to wellbeing, with clear objectives that focus on reducing health risks and managing health outcomes.

Integral to this is an appreciation of the psychosocial threads that underpin our sense of wellbeing and belonging.

Good people management, led from the top, responds to this, and successful organisations will ensure line managers do their part to create a positive workplace culture where employees are encouraged to live healthy, active lives and respond through their commitment and performance.