Workplace Wellbeing - Employers' Responsibility

Posted in : HR Updates ROI on 17 February 2016
Caroline Reidy
The HR Suite
Issues covered:

Managing Absenteeism

Absenteeism is a substantial cost for every business in Ireland. Previously figures released by the Small Firms Association suggested that absenteeism from work costs small business €793 million per annum. Research conducted by the SFA suggested that the average staff member in a large firm is absent for ten days annually while the figure for small businesses is six days per annum but the knock-on effects can be more severe in smaller organisations. This study took place throughout Ireland and covered all sectors of Irish Business, it indicated that there is a marked differences across sectors and regions, and showed that small firms with less than 50 employees, are less likely to have workers absent on sick leave than larger firms

The national average for absenteeism is 3.5 percent, or eight days annually. In small firms, this is six days, in medium firms eight days and in large firms ten days. However, these figures do not take account of other direct costs such as the requirement to replace absent staff with other workers or overtime payments, and the cost of medical referrals; or of the indirect costs such as the effect on productivity and quality, the increased work pressure on other colleagues, and the admin time in managing absence. It is estimated that the overall cost in reality could be in excess of €1 billion.

Back pain or injury and stress are the most commonly cited problems on medical certs. It is essential that Employers ensure that they are fulfilling their duty of care to their employees by including manual handling and work related stress when conducting risk assessments as part of their review of their Health & Safety Statements.

In the current difficult economic environment, it is important to foster an attendance culture within your organisation and ensure that you tackle both short and long term absenteeism. In many cases back injury could have been prevented by an effective control program and ergonomic design of work tasks. Controls should include correct training in regard to lifting techniques i.e. Manual Handling Training which is a legal requirement for all employers in Ireland.

In tackling absenteeism, you must have a clear and comprehensive absence and sick leave policy. The absence and sick leave policy should cover a number of key areas namely:

  • notification procedures
  • certification procedures
  • sick leave payment
  • referral to company doctor procedures
  • return to work procedures

The consequences of failure to follow the absence and sick leave policy must be clearly outlined. All staff should be fully aware of the policy, each member of staff should be issued with the policy in writing and they should be asked to sign to confirm that they have read and understood it. It is vital that management implement the policy within the organisation in each case. All staff should be treated equally under the policy in order to prevent any claims of unfair treatment or discrimination arising.

There are two types of absenteeism which are of concern to employers – short-term absenteeism and long-term absenteeism. Short-term absenteeism can cause the most disruption to employers in terms of sourcing last minute cover for the employee. In this regard, it is important for line managers to conduct return to work meetings with employees who have short-term absenteeism. These meetings involve a meeting with the employee to ascertain the reasons for the illness, whether they are fit to return to work and the likelihood of the illness reoccurring. It is advisable to conduct these meetings when the employee returns to work, especially in cases where employees have high level of frequent short term absences or where the organisation has high levels of short term absenteeism. Line managers must monitor absenteeism and if a pattern emerges for one employee or if there is a high incidence of absenteeism the issue may become a disciplinary matter.

Where an employee has gone on long-term absenteeism, it is important for an employer to maintain contact with the employee to understand whether it is likely that they will return to work in the future. The employee on long-term absenteeism should continue to submit sickness certificates and keep the employer updated on their likely return to work date. An employer should have a policy which allows them to refer an employee to their own Company Doctor. This independent assessment will give the employer an indication of when the employee can return to work or whether the employee will require alternative employment in the organisation.

Presentism is the new absence concern where staff attend work but are not well enough to be productive.  There can be many causes for presentism which include genuine sickness or health issues etc.

Overall, managing absenteeism is a tricky area for an employer to navigate. Nonetheless, given the costs associated with absenteeism, it is beneficial for employers to be proactive in managing absenteeism within their organisation.

Work Life Balance

By now we are all aware of the term work life balance and endeavour to establish the perfect equilibrium for both ourselves and our employees. When you consider work life balance it is important to remember that rest and time out have an extremely positive effect on overall performance. Down time, play time or enjoying our hobbies such as music, sports or art also has a positive effect on our performance and productivity. So it is important to not only take time out from work but to engage ourselves in our interests and hobbies also and to spend time with our family and friends.

A good work life balance includes working a standard amount each day from approximately five to nine hours, having interests outside of the work and taking sufficient rest and meal breaks during the day. Management should also aim to provide employees with their roster as far in advance as possible so employees can make plans for their after work activities. Supporting flexibility in the workplace can also improve productivity and morale.

Employers must also keep in mind the legislation that governs working arrangements and which protects workers’ rights to rest and leave entitlements. Some examples of this legislation are as follows:

  • The Organisation of Working Time act which outlines rest entitlements
  • Maternity Protection Act/ Adoptive Leave Act, outlining parent’s entitlement to time off to care for a new-born/newly adopted child.
  • Carers leave which sets out the entitlement to time off to care for a dependent
  • Force majeure leave which gives employees the right to leave work in the case of an emergency.

Employers should also be mindful of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 under which an employer is required in so far as is reasonably practicable to ensure that an employee has a safe place of work

A healthy workplace envisaged as one where workers and managers work collaboratively on a continual basis to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of all workers with the aim of promoting and sustaining the productivity of the business. Work health and wellbeing programmes are becoming more important in the workplace as companies seek to capitalise on the benefits of a healthy workplace. Work health and wellbeing initiatives should include

  • Healthy places – provide a physical, social and organisational environment that supports healthy choices
  • Healthy people  - provide access to health information and build on the skills and knowledge of workers to adopt healthy lifestyles
  • Communications – liaise with workers and motivate through personal communication.

So encouraging wellbeing initiatives at work is good for employee morale and wellbeing at work and it makes business sense also as it will ultimately reduce absence and presentism costs.  

This article is correct at 17/02/2016

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Caroline Reidy
The HR Suite

The main content of this article was provided by Caroline Reidy. Contact telephone number is +353 66 710 2887 / +353 86 775 2064 or email

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