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Employers have low expectations of the fit note as a means of reducing employee absence


Employers have little faith that fit notes will reduce staff absence in their organisations.

Only 22% of employers believe that the new Statement of Fitness for Work, or ‘fit note' will reduce absence levels in their organisations, according to the findings of a Kronos survey out today to coincide with the introduction of fit notes on 6 April.

The survey polled 1,400 employers from both the private and public sectors and responses came from managers across several job functions, including HR, operations and general management.

The results highlight 35% of employers are still unaware that the fit note is to be introduced, which is worrying considering that employees could arrive for work from 6 April expecting their employers to know how to deal with the note. And 64% of survey respondents have not received any guidance so far on how to manage the fit note.

Employee absence has been a big issue this past week, with the Government announcing some of the £11 billion public-sector efficiency target will come from reducing public-sector absence. It's hoped that the fit note will reduce long-term sickness absence and cut the cost of sick leave for employers.

The Kronos survey shows many employers believe that the fit note will create more problems than it solves, with 38% of employers either strongly agreeing or agreeing that it will create, rather than solve, problems. Only 24% of respondents believe it will solve more problems than it creates.

Respondents cite a number of barriers to the success of the fit note. Just under half of the respondents (47%) think the biggest barrier will be the inability of the GP to assess the functional impairment of an employee. A lack of employee understanding and information will be the main problem, according to 26% of survey respondents, and 12% think the lack of information and support for employers on how to manage the fit note will be the greatest barrier to its successful introduction. Only 5% of employers indicate that they think there will be no barriers to the introduction of the Fit Note.

Employees too will react in different ways, according to their employers. Approximately 65% of the employers who responded to the Kronos survey believe employees will react negatively. The reasons they give include: ‘Those who abuse the system now will most likely play up their ailments to lessen the work they may be capable of doing.' ‘It is putting pressure on employees to work when not well.' ‘In the current climate, employees are always thinking someone is trying to take money out of their pockets.'

The survey also asked employers how they currently monitor absence trends and levels in their organisation, and what they believe is the most effective tool for managing absence. Approximately 93% of the Kronos-customer employers who responded are currently monitoring patterns of absence behaviour to help manage absence levels; 89% of employers are conducting timely back-to-work interviews when employees return after a period of absence; 72% are providing good information to employees about the negative effect of absence on the organization; and 56% of employers are encouraging flexible working. And 22% of survey respondents also use attendance bonuses to encourage attendance.

Respondents were asked what they believe to be the most effective absence management tool they use in their own organisation. Timely back-to-work interviews are the most effective, according to 29% of respondents; 11% think that monitoring patterns of absence behaviour is the most effective tool; 11% believe that encouraging flexible working is an effective way to reduce absence and 11% highlight the attendance bonus as their most useful tool to manage absence levels.

Despite some employers being under-prepared for the fit note at the moment, the majority of employers have no concerns about their organisation's current ability to accommodate employees with fit notes, with 65% of employees having no concerns.

Commenting on the survey findings, Simon Macpherson, senior director business development and operations at Kronos UK, said: "The introduction of the fit note on 6 April and the Government's new focus on public-sector absence again raised the profile of absence management in business. It's a very real and very costly problem in every sector and every organisation, yet employers are already using highly effective real-time tools to monitor and manage absence in order to reduce absence levels. I very much hope that the fit note has the same positive effect that many employers already achieve by closely monitoring absence levels and patterns of behaviour and nipping the problem in the bud by conducting timely return-to-work interviews."