Vital signs: Eight elements to improving sickness absence

Vital signs

Sickness absence is a major focus of wellbeing strategies in the NHS. It is measured nationally, and is therefore one of the key available indicators for the wellbeing of staff. 

The cost associated with sickness absence is highly reported and well known. In the NHS Health and Wellbeing Review (2009) Steve Boorman said ‘Reducing current levels of sickness absence across the NHS by a third would result in a gain of 3.4 million days a year, equivalent to 14,900 extra whole-time equivalent staff and an annual direct cost saving of £555 million’.

The management of sickness absence should form part of an organisation’s overall health and wellbeing strategy. A robust strategy should focus on prevention, as well as interventions and proactive and reactive measures. 

A successful health and wellbeing programme requires engagement, time and commitment. The programme should be measured using a range of indicators including, but not solely focused on, sickness absence.  

Having the right elements

We have worked with our network of health and wellbeing leads across the NHS to identify the eight elements that are critical to delivering a robust and effective health and wellbeing offer. These eight key elements can be applied to many areas, including how to deliver effective support and management of sickness absence. 

To approach sickness absence effectively all eight elements should be considered and in place. For example, an approach without communication or leadership will not create a healthy culture and ensure staff are fully supported.  

We have categorised the elements into key behaviours, and the actions you need to take to tackle sickness absence:


Why Register?

Great reasons to register with NHS Employers

  • A personalised website
    Manage your profile and select topics of interest to you
  • Access your dashboard
    Bookmark useful content to help you quickly find what you're looking for
  • Get involved
    Contribute to our Talking Points discussions, comment on and rate our webpages
  • Keep up to date
    Receive the latest newsletters and media summaries

Log In