Debate on incentives to prevent high sickness rates

We asked:- “Would offering brand new cars to staff
who don’t take sick leave make a marked difference to absence
rates in social services?

These are the comments we received.

“I am sure some incentive would help as you feel that you are
no better thought of for not having sickness days.”
Kathryn Hulme,
Social worker
Mental Health Day Services

“Would the incentive of a new car prevent staff taking sick
leave? I would imagine it could do if the car was able to give
immunity from illness. If however the suggestion is that staff are
taking sick leave when able to work, then effective management is
needed. It might be that sick leave is high due to the nature of
the job? No amount of freebies will entice you in if you can’t work
due to illness.”

Shaun Golding
Social worker

”I would be perfectly happy to be offered a car of any
description, or a motorbike, or even a bit of extra money to
acknowledge my efforts to do a job which I have chosen to do to the
best of my ability.”

Dick Pledge,
Social worker,
Assessment & Care Management,

“No, but as in any other job there should be a full
investigation on those who are constantly off sick. Who would fund
the new car scheme? Me! I do not think so after all it takes me all
my time to afford a car for myself never mind paying for someone
else’s just to get them to turn up for work!”

”I think it would help if employers offered a financial
reward each month to staff who maintain a clear sickness record. As
we cover for our colleagues, which increases our workload, it is
only right we should be rewarded! £100 per month should be
acceptable as a goodwill gesture!”

Debra Waud

”I think there is a very good argument for employers
providing incentives to employees who do not go sick – one of the
things that brings teams down is when members of the team take
excessive sick leave. This just makes more work for the other
members of the team as the work just gets allocated out. It also
means that service users suffer due to lack of continuity and
having to get to know another worker.”

Richard Slimm

“Yes I think it’ll surely motivate others and it will be a
mark of honour to the deserved ones.”

Rajendra Tuteja

”I am a first year social work student doing the new BA
degree. I think that it is quite insulting to suggest that offering
a free car to workers who are lucky enough not to fall sick is
quite insulting. The stress that workers are under is severe and I
think that people just get worn down.

In my opinion if anything goes wrong in any aspect of a service
user’s life then it seems to be us who always and automatically get
the blame.”

Robert Bain

”I don’t think that giving cars out would make any marked
difference to staff taking sick leave.

The staff who are ill would need the time off anyway and those
who come to work every day come rain or shine will do it anyway. I
think a better idea to encourage staff not to take so much time off
is to recruit more social work assistants to help take some of the

By dealing with the less urgent cases and then rewarding those
who attend for work on a regular basis with either a ‘bonus” system
or the chance to win prizes of varying value for example the more
time you spend at work, the bigger the ‘prize’. This could range
from a 30″ colour tv to a first prize of a car. This would give
staff an incentive to ‘win’ one of the prizes rather than just
handing out cars. To someone who might already have two cars this
may not be a valued incentive.”

Margaret Logan
2nd year social work student

“Not half! I haven’t been off sick for three years! But I
would crawl into work and infect all my colleagues for a new

Jacqui Jensen

”Offering staff cars for not taking sick leave is not helpful
to those who are genuinely ill – it is discriminatory. To ease
sickness within social care we need to increase staffing levels and
reduce case loads.”

Gill Leather
Independent Conference Chair

“I have to say, that I do not think that having a car would
be a incentive to take less sick leave.

It is my experience that the only time I have sick leave is when
I am unwell or have had to have surgery. The people I assume this
is alluding to is those who take sick leave at the drop of the hat
and this escalates to chronic sick leave/absences. There are other
issues to be addressed to resolve this, not offering free cars!

This could also be divisive, in that people who potentially
would qualify could be resented by the person who has just one
day’s sick leave and missed the car?   I could go

Louise Forster

“How is it that we work in an environment where we – and
others – ignore the warning signs and we end up in such a state of
physical and mental collapse that we need to take long term sick

“There has been a sociological and cultural shift in people’s
resilience etc” says David Wainwright. Really?  Maybe what has
shifted is the level of complexity, the emotional texture of the
work we do. Maybe what has shifted is the style of management, the
quality and frequency of supervision.

Maybe what has shifted is the sheer volume of paperwork, the
endless re-organisations of said paperwork or just the endless re-
organisations together with the insecurity that engenders.

Which period of time is he referring to when he says: “In the
past they would have regarded them (ie problems) as part of the ups
and downs of working life etc”. Specifically which period? Social
workers are people too. They work best in a supportive environment
with a workload that is fair and manageable. They need good
supervision where they feel respected and valued and where it is
expected that early warning signs of stress or overload and
welcomed as part of the agenda and dealt with effectively and
without blame.

This article made me feel sad. It was unhelpful. The answers are
obvious, easily attainable and ultimately cost effective. They
simply need the collective will to be implemented – or maybe a
cultural shift?”

Alison Langford

“I am a social work student and have only recently started work
placement in the field of social work. 

I don’t believe that offering people brand new cars would
stop them taking sick leave.  Social work is a stressful job and
people who are mentally ill due to stress need to take sick leave
in order to avoid a early mental break-down. 

Perhaps if line managers were more supportive of staff and were
more available to provide support to their staff and to discuss
feelings of stress, anxiety, etc with them then staff would feel
that some of the pressure had been relieved. 

Perhaps setting up support groups within the working environment
so that social workers can understand that each and every one of
them experiences stress may be helpful because sometimes it is
possible for an individual to feel completely on their own. By
talking to the support network and supporting each other,
individuals can feel stronger and more able to cope with the
stresses of their job. 

Line managers should think about different ways to encourage
staff to support each other instead of encourage a culture where
they are out to look after themselves.  The idea of a
multi-disciplinary team doesn’t really mean much when an individual
in the same line of work can’t support another individual. The term
“supporting some of society’s most deprived individuals”
can’t mean much if social workers can’t even support
each other. 

Perhaps it’s about re-educating social workers and line
managers in the area of communication and supporting people. 
People to me suggests everyone irrespective of whether they are a
social worker, a doctor or the service user. Professionals need to
support each other in order to be able to effectively provide
support for others.”

Michelle McDermott,
Student Social Worker,
John Moores University,

“I am in my last year of diploma in social work. I personally
think it would make a big difference, it would to me anyway. It
would make you more determined to come to work!”
Michelle Harris
University of Luton

“Offering cars to reduce sick leave? Another bribe which does
not address the real cause of sickness or malingering.

There are two types of “sickies”: type one – staff
that are physically unwell and/or stressed-out, burned-out, afraid
of their jobs due to the volume of work and lack of
support/supervision/boundaries and type 2 are the malingerers
exploit their colleagues goodwill and  who are caught up in a cycle
of pseudo illnesses, deception and dishonesty.

Offer a car, reduced caseloads, plus increased staffing and case
management advice and this will in my opinion weed out the

Pauline McCarthy

“I would have to admit that there is a very high sickness
level in the team that I work within, we are not a healthy bunch
and we believe that the building is partly to blame. 

It made myself and my colleagues laugh though when we read about
the Royal Mail giving £12,000 cars to workers who hadn’t been
off sick for six months, would this work in social care?  

Personally we feel no, is the answer to that, but perhaps what
would work would be for us to at least have a rest area to be able
to go to and eat our lunch away from our desks and to perhaps be
offered a relaxation/pampering day with various types of massage
and therapy once a month which would keep the stress at

From the tired and stressed Older People’s

“A new car would be nice but I do not see the relevance to
improve sickness. This only suggests that much of the sickness is
false and social workers can be bought through presents.
Encouraging people to have less time of due to sickness may also
result in people who are unwell with viral infections feeling they
have to come into work to get their new car thus contaminating the
rest of the office.

We in our office have always suffered from frequent virus
infections due to poor quality ventilation in our office, contact
with older people who are sick themselves, low immunity due to
stress and back and neck problems due to the time spent in front of
a computer. What would be helpful would be a monthly treatment with
a complementary practitioner, to maintain back and neck care and
immunity boosting through treatments such massage, shiatsu, and
acupuncture. This would help to maintain healthy staff. Discounted
gym memberships to local authority centres would also encourage
workers to maintain a better level of health.”

Biggleswade Older Person’s Team

“In my opinion, social work is a vocation and I do not think
offering a car as an incentive to not take sick leave will make
much difference.

I will only take sick leave if I am instructed by my GP or if I
am genuinely too ill to attend work.  I have worked with a broken
bone and worked in the office to relieve pressure on colleagues
with an arm in plaster. I have continued to work with severe back
pain because of work commitments and would state that at my place
of work most of my colleagues are the same.”

Jeanette Crandon



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