A social enterprise is on a mission to combat absenteeism at work through ill-health, which is costing the Welsh economy £500 million a year in lost production.
New figures have shown that last year Rhyl City Strategy (RCS), which has offices in Rhyl and Bangor, has helped 86 business and enabled more than 380 people on sick leave to get back to their jobs.
In addition, it helped another 960 workers with long-standing health problems and worked with others who are unemployed through ill-health to improve their chances of finding a job.
According to Operational Director Alison Thomas, it can cost more than £1,000 for a worker to be off on long-term sick leave, as firms need to take on extra staff or share their workload with colleagues.
The latest statistics show that workers living in Wales had the UK’s highest sickness absence rates at 2.6 per cent of the workforce.
Although flu, coughs and colds are the most common reason for people calling in sick, around a fifth of workers end up on long-term leave due to back pain, neck and upper limb problems. Mental health issues, including stress, depression and anxiety, were the next most common reasons for sickness absence.
RCS delivers a range of services across North Wales to help more people to enter and sustain in employment through improving their employability and wellbeing.
Ms Thomas said: “One of our key aims is to support the development of healthy and happy workplaces where employees are able to flourish and reach their full potential.
“Our work is two-fold – providing support and therapies for employees with a health condition that is putting them on or at risk of absence from work, and also running workshops for employers to create healthier workplaces.
“These free workshops have helped 151 managers from 86 businesses to build healthier workplaces, to understand the causes and costs of absence, and to take steps to reduce short-term absence. Details and dates of the workshops are on our website, rcs-wales.co.uk.
“Also at the workshops we look at the simple steps to ensure people don’t develop the conditions that will lead to them having to take time off ill.
“We discuss ways to make workplaces healthier by identifying the key sources of stress, helping employees to develop coping strategies for dealing with pressure at work and to use positive language to improve communication.
“Our In-Work-Support Service, which is part-funded by European Social Funding through the Welsh Government, is aimed at reducing sickness absence, providing support and work-focussed therapies to help employed or self-employed people address common health problems which are affecting their attendance or productivity. This might include low mood, anxiety or depression, or a physical condition which is causing pain or affecting mobility.
“People can refer themselves to the service, by calling us on 01745 336442.
“Last year the In-Work-Support service helped 387 sickness absentees return to work, plus 962 employees with work-limiting health conditions to improve their health at work.
“More than 85% of our clients report that their health condition has improved as a result of their contact with our service.”
Across the UK, around 150 million working days are lost due to sickness absence every year, with 300,000 people each year flowing from work onto health related benefits – around 50 per cent of the total of new claimants. The cost is more than £100 billion per year, of which £30-40 billion can be attributed to mental health problems.
Martin Topps, HR and security manager at food service company Roberts of Port Dinorwic, where he oversees a 100-strong workforce, has attended workshops run by RCS and is encouraging other businesses to sign up.
He said: “Along with other managers from the company I attended a RCS Mind Hack course in Caernarfon and I found it extremely useful – a lot of it is common sense, and it’s good to be reminded of the correct approach, and to reinforce the positive language that should be used in the workplace.
“A company’s strongest asset is the people who work for the business and it’s important to make sure they feel valued. Once you have got the right person for a job, it is vital to retain them, and make sure that they are able to work without becoming ill.
“I would also urge other businesses to attend the workshops run by RCS – they are free and extremely useful, and will benefit any company, no matter the size. Anything that helps keep people in work and sickness levels down has to be a good thing for the national economy as it improves our country’s efficiency – that’s a win all round.”
With its headquarters in West Rhyl, RCS now operates across the whole of Conwy, Denbighshire, Anglesey and Gwynedd. The service has provided support for over 2,000 people since January 2016.
For more details about RCS call 01745 336442 or visit rcs-wales.co.uk