Early interventions can make all the difference in ensuring sick staff do not become long-term absentees, figures from Legal & General have shown.

The insurer, which assists firms with absence management through its Group Income Protection policies, has released statistics which it says show that six weeks of absence is the ‘tipping point’ when it comes to preventing long-term absence.

Absent employees who are referred to the insurer for interventions in the first six weeks of their absence have a 69 per cent chance of returning to work within six months, but those referred later have a much lower return rate of 52 per cent. The average length of absence for those referred early is 45 per cent less than those referred at a later date. For stress-related conditions – where cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a typical intervention – the difference is even more marked, at 49 per cent.

Diane Buckley, Legal & General’s Group Protection Managing Director, said: “Our extensive analysis of our return-to-work results show that the later we’re notified, the longer the individual is off sick plus the likelihood of return diminishes over time. Our results show that the optimum period for notification is before the sixth week of absence and providing early tailored intervention can boost back-to-work rates.”

The company’s figures show that the biggest causes of long-term absence in cases notified under its policies are stress (35 per cent), musculo-skeletal problems (30 per cent) and cancer (8 per cent).
NHS waiting lists can be a barrier to early intervention, with 63 per cent of stress sufferers, for example, having to wait for more than six weeks to get CBT.

The findings come at a time when the government is reviewing the way it approaches workplace absence. Dame Carol Black and David Frost are leading the current review, which was announced by the Department of Work and Pensions.