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Is the UK the statutory sick pay person of Europe?

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is widely used in the UK but the clarity and understanding of how it works is sometimes unclear to organisations and employees.

What is clear is that if you compare statutory sick pay with other EU countries, the UK lags pay behind e.g. in Italy you can claim between 50 and 66% of average pay for up to 22 weeks which is roughly £1100 per month, with SSP being paid by the organisation.

Here in the UK, an employee can get £94.25 per week of SSP if they are deemed too ill to work. It is paid by the employees’ organisation for up to 28 weeks. The SSP weekly pay equates to £377 a month, whereas the average wage in the UK monthly is £2,307 and the average mortgage payment is approximately £670 per month. While many large organisations have company sick pay schemes which do pay 50%-100% of pay, 95% of people in the private sector work for small organisations and many of these do not have a company sick pay scheme. Add in the mix that in large parts of the UK, the average household has enough savings to pay for one month’s mortgage payment, you might think the title of this blog post maybe correct.

The impact on a small organisation of someone who goes off sick can be considerable in terms of productivity. Many find it difficult to get someone to cover another role and unless it’s clear that the person is going be off sick for a considerable amount of time, it is isn’t practical to employ someone on a short term contract to cover their work. If your company does pay sick pay then they will have an additional wage cost if they want to back fill the role while the person is off sick.

There is also a health dimension in relation to SSP. If you work in an organisation where there isn’t a company sick pay scheme and you become ill, you have three choices: either you go to your GP and get a fit note, you come into work or you book the time off as a holiday. There is data to show that people are making the decision to come into work while ill or take holidays to mask their illness, but what effect does that have on an organisation? Levels of presenteeism and leaveism are increasing and the natural conclusion is that productivity will reduce when these factors are in place.

So, what can be done to try and mitigate the effects of SSP on an organisation? In SOHAS’s experience we know that many organisations do not take a proactive approach to managing sickness absence. I often have conversations with managers and owners where they tell me they know how much sickness absence in their organisation is costing them and the problems it causes. Yet they often have no measures in place that tell them that someone is not well while they are at work. Is one of the issues at play that because the rate of SSP is so low compared to the average wage level, that they measure their bottom line rather than the health and productivity of their employees? If SSP was at the same level as other countries would that change their response?


It is worth looking at how other countries manage SSP. In Germany, the national health insurance compensates organisations for 80% of sick pay so long as the organisation does not employ more than 30 employees. Where an illness lasts longer than six weeks, the employee will receive a sickness allowance from the national health insurer amounting to 70% of the employee’s salary for a period of up to 78 weeks. In the UK, organisations ability to claim SSP back from the government was abolished in 2015.

A review of SSP in this country is long overdue and in the recent DWP consultation, SSP was recognised as an issue that need to be addressed. While we wait for the results, what would a fit for purpose SSP system look like?

  • SSP raised in line with other countries with similar economies
  • SSP aimed at small organisations, that allows them to claim back SSP from the government in a straightforward way.
  • Small organisations are given practical help to introduce preventative measures to manage their employees’ health before they go off sick.

The impact of the low rate of statutory sick pay for people aren’t in a company sick pay scheme is significant, not only from a financial point of view, but also for their future employment prospects and health. It is time for the government to recognise that a well-funded and managed SSP scheme, would be beneficial for employers, employees and the productivity of the nation.






Mental Health Resiliance

I’ve found that the term “resilience” is used a lot in describing the mindset that organisations want to see in their employees as a way of improving not just personal, but organisational wellbeing. While this is welcome, the increasing focus on workplace wellbeing provision should not come at the expense of effective workplace management cultures, which I think is overlooked by lots of the organisations I come into contact with, so what does resilience look like?

A good description of resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, threats or significant sources of stress” I think you can relate this to what happens in everyday life, either from a work or personal point of view.

I have a teenage daughter who I try to talk to about resilience. Her response to me talking to her usually involves lots of eye rolling and calling me names…. You may ask why I do this, but I think there is a value in me giving her some information about developing a quality that allows people who are knocked down by life, to come back stronger than ever. While the term resilience may be new, what it describes is not, as you’ll see from the examples on how you can improve your resilience.

  • Mental Flexibility – The ability to view many situations and challenges in an optimistic way and think of possible alternatives to success.
  • No overthinking – ‘Thoughts are not facts’ Having the ability to elevate yourself from any unwarranted stress of the mind and not seeing situations worse than they are.
  • Feeling comfortable with the unknown – Life will throw many curveballs your way, so being content with the uncertainty and seeing it as an avenue to grow and learn new things.
  • Build positive beliefs in your ability – Believe in your capabilities.
  • Build a community of support – Surround yourself with caring, supportive people who are keen to see you flourish at life, as well as appreciating the loved ones currently in your life.

Personally, I’ve got to the stage where I try and see failure as good feedback which   is useful, but maybe that has something to do with my life experiences, age and the job I carry out. We, as a society are now much more aware of the effect that mental health can have on our lives. You only have to look at the pressure that Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services are under and the explosion in private counselling services to see that people are increasingly looking for mental health related health and support.

Resilience is an important tool that can be developed and improved upon; it is not just something you either have or do not have. Having that ability to not hide from challenges but welcome them, and deal with a possible defeat but know how to overcome it and succeed the next time around. A healthy personal life in terms of surrounding yourself with people who will be a positive influence, eating healthily, getting physical exercise can all amount to a better mental health and increase resilience. So while there is a strong case about why personal resilience is important, what happens in organisations?

There is an assumed importance of resilience in an organisational setting and there have been programs developed to try and increase resilience of employees. As we know, resilience is this idea of persevering during tough times and facing adversity head on. This can be an incredible trait to possess not only in everyday life but also at the workplace.

A useful definition of workplace resilience is “A functioning team will be acutely aware of the need for its team members to feel consistently psychologically well, as this, combined with motivation and a positive attitude, offers the opportunity for it to perform at its peak”.

Workplaces that promote a vibrant, friendly, hardworking environment that also take interest in their employees’ health can result in better performances as well as better overall mental resilience

Mental resilience is not a trait you are born with and cannot acquire; it is more something you can learn, harness and really improve upon with time and effort. I’m hoping that eye rolling is some sort of subliminal evidence of learning how to become more resilient…..



Can cake enrich an organisations employee culture?

Does cake equal happiness at work?

I’ve met with a number of organisations recently where cake has been raised as something that makes people happy. It doesn’t appear to be anything to do with the size of the organisation; when I talk to people about what makes people happy at work, cake is high on their list.

It is the same at my organisation.  We have discussed the role of cake in the past and as I’ve talked about in a previous blog, we have gone a step further and introduced “cake on your birthday” where people can choose what cake they want from a menu and we have a professional cake maker who makes them exactly the type of cake they want. They have the option of taking it home or sharing it amongst everyone. What people like is that it’s their cake and it’s a nice way to have their birthday celebrated at work.

However, I did recently come across an organisation where cake was perceived in a negative way. When I asked why this was the case, I was told that there were quite a few people who really liked Bake Off and had started making their own cakes and taking them to work for people to share and comment on, which had led to a “cake overload”. People said that they didn’t want to be seen to be rude by not eating the cake and so cake wasn’t seen as something that was pleasurable or made them happy.

So, can cake in any form be a force for good or ill in an organisation? One of the outcomes of implementing cake on your birthday in my organisation is that no-one brings in a cake in between birthdays; (and for a health orientated organisation that’s important) it’s like everyone is happy with the amount of cake in the organisation. The cake tends to be eaten at the start of meetings and usually involves eating while having conversations about family, friends or holidays and very rarely work.

Can it be the case that the reason why people can equate cake with happiness is that it is seen as a part of the social interaction between them? maybe it gives them a chance to do something that they find pleasurable and gives people a chance to take a break from work for a few minutes. It is relatively passive and usually combined with a cup of tea, before the meeting starts and work begins.

The other issue that is being increasingly being raised in my discussions is loneliness at work. Can a cake intervention help to reduce people’s isolation by giving them a chance to talk and interact and talk briefly on a personal level? Whilst I’m not claiming that introducing cake on your birthday will solve the problem of loneliness could it be the start of bringing people together where the agenda is just cake.

A ‘cake on your birthday’ initiative won’t work for all organisations, but it’s clear from my organisation that people like to have the time to disengage from their work even if it’s for a relatively short period of time and eating a piece of cake is a good way of doing this. I think it helps to set the culture within an organisation, it gives out a positive signal about our approach to how people carry out their work. When we next recruit staff, cake on your birthday will be on the list of organisational benefits alongside holidays and pensions, it’s part of who we are as an organisation.

Mental Health Awareness

I was at a meeting recently and I was talking to a boss of an SME about mental health in the workplace. I had been talking to him about the current issues and while he appeared interested, his response was “If anyone in my company had a mental health condition I would know about it”. Our conversation drifted off onto other subjects and we then parted. The name of his organisation did seem familiar and when I was back at the office I looked at the data we hold and found that we had supported a number of his employees with mental health and work issues….

We do see this kind of lack of awareness a lot in organisations and it doesn’t matter what size it is. It often comes across to SOHAS advisers that employers have a lack of awareness of their lack of awareness to mental health and work issues.

In the job retention service we provide in Sheffield, the number of people who want to access our service with mental health problems is growing and the issues we see are becoming more complex.

The people we see are increasingly uneasy about talking about their mental health with their employer as they believe that their capability to do their job will be questioned. The outcome of this is that they turn up for work when they are not well. When they aren’t well enough to work they tell their employer that they have a physical problem or they take holiday instead of calling in sick. As a last resort they will go to their GP who will sign them off sick for 14 days and their employer will get a fit note saying the cause of their absence is from stress, but it will not provide any clue as to the cause of the stress.

You can understand an employee’s anxiety about mental health and employment when you consider some key points from a recent survey of managers on mental health.

  • 29% believe employees should not discuss mental health issues at work, with the percentage higher (36%) among younger managers.
  • 19% would not want to hire someone with a declared mental illness, more so in bigger firms.
  • 28% admit not knowing how to deal with employees’ mental health issues, with 71% interested in more training.
  • 38% believe workplace stress is inevitable and out of employers’ control, but 77% concur that employers have a responsibility to tackle it. (1)

The reality is that mental health and employment issues are not getting better. A recent BBC news item reported up to 300,000 people a year leaving their job as a result of depression or other mental health illnesses. The figure was taken from Thriving at Work: a Review of Mental Health and Employers, a government-commissioned independent study that also found that mental health illness costs the economy nearly £99bn a year.

Sheffield has approximately 1% of the working population in England, so if the figure is to be believed, then 3,000 people left their job because of a mental health condition or 57 people a week. We know from the people we give advice to, who either quit or lose their job due to a mental health condition, that they struggle to get back to work. While there are a variety of back to work scheme’s our experience is that many of them don’t have trained mental health specialists who can give the right kind of support to get a job.

We think it’s time to a draw a line in the sand on mental health and employment issues. There is an urgent need to destigmatise mental health. That’s easily said, but what can be done to change the culture on workplace mental health issues?

When you start to read the statistics about mental health it is thought provoking information, but we worry about the believability of the figures being used. If you are running a small business and told that the cost of mental health issues is £99bn a year, I don’t think you connect with that. If you are told either 1-6 or 1-4 people will have a mental health condition during their life time and you have 5 employees does that make it real to you? We think the answer is no….

We think the problem is about how mental health is regarded as an illness, it’s about we view it. We talk to people who we give advice to with a mental health condition and they don’t see it as an illness. It is a health condition that they are managing whether through medication and/or therapeutic support. The issues are complex for employees and employers to manage and not helped by the views held by employers in the statistics above.

The conclusion we draw from talking to employers and line managers is that many believe mental health is a character flaw and not a psychological illness and if people wanted to get better they could if they wanted to. They can see a broken leg or wrist, it’s tangible and it makes sense for people to take time off, but the often invisibility of a mental health issue seems to cast doubts on what they are being told, they can’t see a clear end point where someone is healed, and they return to work as they were.

We seem to have built up mental health conditions on a pedestal with the potential for increasing the stigma around mental health and we would include ourselves as a part of this as we strive to provide advice and support to employees to stay in work.

Mental and physical health issues should be seen as significant and equal as each other, each with its own treatment pathways and well worked solutions on how to manage health in the workplace.

Here is what we think could be done to reduce stigma:


There is obviously a need for employers to engage with the mental health and employment issues as it is the key driver of sickness absence. Line managers need to be upskilled in how they support employees.

There needs to be review of the role in HR in organisations. The delegation of HR traditional roles to managers who receive little training to carry out the role is causing a huge amount of conflict between employees and line managers which is causing employees to go off sick with stress.

Every organisation should have a clear mental health policy which outlines the kind of support available in the workplace, currently only 30% of organisations have one

Train line managers in mental health and employment issues and how to use practical tools like wellness action plans to facilitate quicker returns to work and help their employees manage their mental health. This does not mean training people as Mental Health First Aiders as we do have evidence that some employers using people who are trained in this way to act as their mental occupational health service for their employees


Engage with support services and look at ways of how you can manage your mental health outside of work. We see too many people who self-medicate mental health problems with alcohol and drugs. Encourage people to try and articulate their mental health issues both in and out work. Wellness action plans are a good way for people to give information to their employer on the best way they can provide support that is tailored to their awareness of employee assistance programmes and primary support like IAPT


The government took away the ability of organisations claim back statutory sick pay to fund the failed Fit for Work service. When an employee is off sick, often other employees are expected to cover their colleagues role as well as their own, creating further pressure in the workplace. A move to reinstate the ability to claim back SSP restricted to the small businesses would give organisations the flexibility and money to back fill posts

Give a signal to employees and employers that it’s ok to use Personal Independence Payments if employees have a long term health condition


Provide support to GP’s on providing meaningful information on fit notes that can help employers provide the right kind of support to their employees

Invest more in job retention specialists in IAPT services who can play a crucial part in keeping people in employment


Loneliness at work

The launch of the commission on loneliness this week has highlighted some interesting facts by encouraging people to share their experiences. One of the key points that have been raised is the assumption many make of associating loneliness only with older people. Another common myth is that loneliness involves being alone, but it can affect people who are surrounded by others and well-connected socially. This is because loneliness is not simply about the quantity of connections but the quality of them, so a person may know a lot of people but still feel lonely as their needs for social contact are unmet. This is becomingly increasingly common with modern lifestyles that rely on technology and social media for most interactions.

One of the stories I heard was from a lady who described herself as being what others would see as happy and successful, essentially someone who would have no reason to be lonely. She had a number of connections including a partner, children and a successful career but she considered herself to be among the fifth of the population who according to research are “always or often lonely”. And with two thirds of those people stating they would never publicly confess to suffering from loneliness it’s no wonder it’s a hidden topic.

We are social animals and naturally like to feel like we belong and this is true not only in our personal and social lives but also at work. Our work tends to form a large part of our identity and for some can provide opportunities for social interaction that enhance wellbeing.
However, in some cases work intensifies feelings of loneliness. With so many changes to working patterns it is not unusual for employees to feel disconnected from colleagues.

I was recently speaking to a group of home-based workers who praised the benefits and flexibility of working from home but alongside this were feelings of isolation and being ‘out-of-the loop’ with other staff and the company, one described it as feeling forgotten or invisible at times. Similarly those or with part-time or shift working patterns can feel distanced and it can be difficult for those on short-term or temporary contracts to settle or feel they belong in a team that they may only be part of for weeks or months.

With loneliness being talked of as a significant public health issue it’s a subject to consider in a range of settings. In the workplace the importance of communication is key, and effective and appropriate communication specifically. Managers should consider how information is shared; a common complaint can be feeling like you miss out on important information as this is discussed when some people aren’t present. With a decrease in face to face interactions and a greater reliance on emails it is important that business or organisational issues affecting employees are communicated openly and inclusively.

An opportunity to talk about other things than work is also very important. So called ‘water cooler chats’ are frowned upon in some organisations for being an unproductive use of time; however, short breaks discussing hobbies, holidays or even last night’s TV programmes can have great benefits. They can bring people together, encourage better team work and engagement and can also flag up any early signs of issues such as stress that may otherwise remain hidden. For those that don’t tend to be in the office these conversations can also take place virtually. For some organisations work nights out tend to be the main way to encourage people to socialise, however, they do not always help feelings of loneliness as not everyone will be interested in the same activities and for those that can’t attend it can lead to further feelings of exclusion.
There are a range of options to choose from and organisations can get creative with activities to offer from book clubs to quiz nights to museum visits. The important thing is for there to be a consistent approach that recognises even small gestures can make a great difference to those that feel isolated or lonely at work.

What do you do at work to encourage connections and reduce loneliness? Share with us in the comments.

Do we need to live a little bit more Danishly to get the security we need?

I have been reading a book called “The year of living Danishly” by Helen Russell, about a couple who decide to move to rural Denmark for a year. I was attracted to the book because the Danish have been regarded for some time as the happiest people in the world and I’m interested in how work impacts on their health and wellbeing. It seems I’m not alone in my interest as books and articles promoting ‘hygge’, a Danish concept that is said to underpin a happy attitude to life seem to be very popular currently!

The book is a good read and there have been lots of times when what I’ve read has made me smile and laugh as Helen and her partner navigate themselves through Danish life. Without giving away what’s in the book, she finds evidence of why we will probably never achieve the same levels of happiness here in the UK, but it does gives us some clues about how we might want to change our attitude to work.
Helen’s book talks about the Danish work culture and the flexicurity model that is followed which gives Danish workers job security and a safety net, if they become ill or are made redundant. While we are culturally too far away from the Danish benefits system that provides between 80-90% of your pay for up to 52 weeks and has great flexibility in changing jobs, shouldn’t we be looking a little more Danishly at how we consider work from both an employer and an employee point of view?

As I was completing reading the book, two reports dropped into my inbox, both from the CIPD. The first one said that poor financial wellbeing was beginning to affect people’s performance in the workplace and the second made the point that our flexible labour market may be beginning to constrain people in low quality jobs.
Neither of the reports makes for pretty reading and combined with the recent research that many fathers want to downshift to less stressful roles as they can’t balance work and home life, it looks like there is an emerging problem in the UK. A problem of what employees want and how that matches up with their time spent at work.

You could argue that the issues identified in the recent research all have an impact on employees’ productivity in one way or another, which is particularly relevant in Sheffield as it has been reported that the city has the lowest productivity for all of the large cities in England.

So going back to the book I read – could making a move to living a little bit more Danishly have an impact? And as financial security appears to be near the top of the list, is there something that employers can do?

Sick pay insurance maybe one answer, but it appears not to be on employer’s radar, perhaps because this type of insurance product appears to thin on the ground in this country. This is something that I have been researching and have found it is not too expensive to provide a scheme where employees who are ill could get 50% of their pay for a set period of time. We see many people who go to work when they are ill as they can’t afford to be off work because there is no company sick pay scheme. The result is people who aren’t being productive and depending on their illness sometimes affecting the health and wellbeing of their co-workers.

This is an important issue to consider as changes in the economy mean that the financial pressures employees are currently experiencing are likely to persist or worsen in the years to come. Having a scheme that provides some sort of financial safety net must be a good thing as it appears that financial wellbeing can have an effect on people’s overall health and productivity at work. Therefore rather than looking at isolated issues employers need to look at the way in which financial support can be offered within the wider context of how they provide support over a wide range of health and wellbeing issues.

Domino Effect of Disengagement

When in ‘good work’ we are more likely to be engaged employees; adopting the vision and values of the organisation, being focused and enthused about our tasks, sharing ideas, being adaptable and persistent in changing or difficult situations.

Unfortunately, however, many people experience situations that do not match with this. One of the key themes we encounter in our service, whether it’s supporting employers or employees, is disengagement. This can present itself in many forms and lead to a number of issues.

Firstly, let’s consider what is meant by disengagement in the workplace. One way to define disengagement is the lack of enthusiasm and commitment to work or a workplace. Active disengagement can present itself in behaviours such as absenteeism, low energy and poor relationships.
A quick online search of disengagement in the workplace brings up numerous links for issues of disengagement among employees but is it only employees that this affects and what leads to an individual feeling this way?

Consider the example below of a case we have been involved with recently;

Mr A works as a joiner for a large employer in the city. He was signed off from work around a month ago due to an injury to his back caused by a job he was doing. Prior to the injury he had asked his manager for further support as although he’d been qualified as a joiner for some time, he was moved to another contract that required him to complete tasks that he had very little experience of.

Further support was not forthcoming which caused him to develop symptoms of stress and anxiety. He has suffered from this in the past and his employers were aware that he was struggling. After being referred to the company occupational health department and meeting with his manager to discuss a return to work it was determined that Mr A was only suffering from a physical issue and they were very dismissive of his mental health symptoms. Measures were taken to address some of the physical limitations Mr A had in his role but little was done to reassure him that he would be supported to learn the role and reduce his stress and anxiety. Before being signed off his manager opted to start capability procedures further exacerbating his symptoms.

Mr A was referred to SOHAS midway through his absence, he met with an advisor who provided guidance for requesting occupational health support which noted his stress and anxiety. A letter was also drafted providing the employer with recommendations on how best to support him back to work that actively looks to address his mental health to ensure that he’s able to stay well and in work such as carrying out a stress assessment and organising regular supervision.

What do you notice about this situation?
Let’s begin with the employee; Mr A was very open about his concerns moving into a different role and was proactive in requesting help in order to carry out the new tasks. Would he therefore be considered to be an engaged employee? However, he was not offered support which not only led to a physical injury but also had an impact upon his mental wellbeing. What impact is this likely to have when he does return to work? If we think about the organisation as a whole how many other employees are likely to be struggling at work but are reluctant to come forward if the manager is not supportive? This suggests the issue could be greater than just an individual.

The most common reason for disengagement in the workplace is thought to be due to relationships with managers. Managers have a key role to play in engaging and leading their teams and in order to do this effectively they need to be engaged themselves.

According to a Gallup study(1), “Employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged than those supervised by actively disengaged managers.”

This is a cause for concern when another report by Gallup(2) suggests that only 35% of managers are engaged in their jobs. (These figures are for managers in the US as there seems to be a lack of data for the UK).

There are a range of factors that can contribute to disengagement among managers and some could be shared across employees at all levels but others are specific to managers. For example, a lack of awareness of the issues that affect employees due to a lack of communication or perhaps similarly to the situation described above talking about the concerns but not acknowledging or acting upon them. This can be due a lack of skills, time, supervision and/or support to be able to deal with issues such as mental health leading to the manager feeling out of their comfort zone.

It is important for organisations to not only encourage open communication among staff at all levels but to investigate and act on issues that arise. This can then lead to increased trust and a supportive network forming in the workplace as opposed to the domino effect of disengagement.

Please do leave any comments as future blog posts will continue to explore other aspects of disengagement.