Reducing Sickness Absence

Steps works with NHS York to equip managers with the skills and confidence to better tackle absence management…

York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust employs over 6000 staff and provides acute services for approximately 350,000 people living in and around York as well a range of specialist services for around 500,000 people in North Yorkshire.


Staff absence is a major issue for many NHS Trusts. The Boorman report states that a cost of a day’s absence to the NHS is £163. In 2008, York Hospitals had an annual absence rate of 4.52%. Managers were negative and lacking confidence and skills in how to deal with absence. In order to address this they developed an initiative which included:

  • Employing a dedicated HR Absence Advisor
  • Improved tracking  & reporting on absence, including identifying ‘hot spots’
  • Much improved rapid access to physio and counselling services
  • Training for managers on how to deal with absence


For the training element, the Trust engaged Steps to design and deliver half-day sessions with managers. It was essential that the training was engaging and interactive, in order for it to succeed in developing manager confidence and skills in managing absence. Jennifer Gardner, HR Manager at the Trust, wanted real practical examples which acknowledged the pressures that managers face and the impact of absence on all stakeholders. Drama was the ideal way to do this.


We worked closely in partnership with Jennifer and her team to develop the session and carefully create highly credible scenarios.

We also developed an in-depth understanding of the Trust’s revised policies and absence management procedures.

We developed and led half-day sessions which included:

  • Interactive scenarios covering return to work interviews,  managing recurring short term absence and managing long-term absence.   Each scenario highlighted key behavioural skills and how these related to the Trust’s new policy/procedure.
  • Discussion around the consequences of not managing absence (and the benefits of doing so)
  • Q&A and Personal Action Planning


The immediate feedback from the training has been overwhelmingly positive with:

  • 100% of attendees rating it Good or Excellent
  • 100% saying they would recommend it to a colleague
  • A 51% increase in managers’ confidence levels in dealing with absence
  • Excess numbers requesting to attend

Annual absence has reduced from 4.52% to 3.13%.  This may not seem much, but it represents a reduction from 52,717 days per annum, to around 36,000 days – equivalent to saving of £2.71m per annum and a saving of approximately £5.58m over the last 3 years.

The Trust continue to work with Steps – with plans to create an additional programme for new managers, implement targeted training for ‘hot spot’ areas/departments and develop a further roll out to other hospitals in the region.