City College Norwich is a college of Higher and Further Education with over 14,000 students and 1,000 staff based in Norfolk. About four years ago, one of the biggest HR issues for the college was managing sickness absence both long-term and short-term intermittent absences.

Long-term sickness cases remained unresolved for lengthy periods of time and there was a high level of short-term intermittent absence, which had the larger impact on disrupting service delivery to students.

In order to tackle this, the college adopted a ‘triangular’ approach to sickness absence management.

Namely, the introduction of a new Management of Sickness Absence Procedure using the Bradford Factor for monitoring and measuring sickness; using an independent absence reporting call centre operated by clinicians for the notifying of sickness absence and offering staff corporate membership of Simply Health.

Whilst the first two measures represented a more robust way of managing sickness absence than methods previously used, membership of Simply Health is seen as a benefit to both staff and the organisation, enabling staff to claim cashback for dental and optical expenses and helping staff to access consultant and therapy appointments faster and thus return to work sooner.

Sickness absence is monitored weekly by the principalship, allowing for prompt action to be taken by managers and HR services to work together to address absence issues. Long-term sickness absence has reduced by close working with managers to intervene promptly to support the member of staff in returning to work wherever possible.

Since the introduction of the approach detailed above, the college’s absence has reduced by 24 per cent”

The Bradford Factor places a higher weighting on the number of occasions of sickness and has been instrumental in reducing short-term intermittent absence.

However, it is difficult to say that one of the three methods in the ‘triangle’ is any more effective than the other.

Since the introduction of the approach detailed above, the college’s absence has reduced by 24 per cent. In addition to this, the college places a particular emphasis on staff wellbeing and is continually expanding the wellbeing offer to its staff, frequently responding to suggestions from staff.

Amongst the initiatives on offer are an on-site Occupational Health service, on-site health checks for staff and their partners funded through Simply Health, free flu vaccinations for all staff, on site gym membership and discounts at local gyms and health clubs and clubs and classes held on site.

The range of initiatives on offer is reviewed regularly depending on demand. Staff now approach us with ideas for wellbeing – the latest being the creation of a hula hooping group!

In 2011, the college was recognised for its wellbeing offer by being awarded the Business in the Community Regional Wellbeing Award.

The challenge for us now is in maintaining staff engagement and a reduced level of absence during periods of significant change and potential reduction in staffing numbers.

Hilary Bright, Head of HR Services,
City College Norwich.