The government should use tax incentives to push companies towards more rehabilitation for the long-term sick, a report says.
The annual absence management survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) reveals the average annual number of sick days fell slightly from 8.4 to eight in 2008.
Ben Willmott, CIPD adviser on workplace health, believes the government could help encourage more employers provide occupational health and vocational rehabilitation services through tax incentives.
Today's survey shows 36 per cent of employers offer no rehabilitation support and that, where it is available, on average it takes two months for the employee to be referred. Often, the CIPD says, the chances of a quick return have been diminished significantly because of this wait.
"Government efforts to get people off long-term sickness benefit and back into work are to be welcomed," Mr Willmott commented.
"But more needs to be done to stem the steady stream of workers heading the other way.
"Increased use of workplace rehabilitation support and services has a key part to play in achieving this and in particular the provision of access to occupational health services, the use of flexible working to aid phased returns to work and the provision of access to counselling services."
The CIPD also wants the government to quickly implement the recommendations of Dame Carol Black's review of workplace health, published in March this year.
She proposed a number of measures to reduce the impact of ill health on Britain's economy, estimated at £100 billion every year.
These included new 'fit notes' to replace sicknotes, a Fit for Work service helping patients in the early stages of sickness and that occupational health be brought into mainstream healthcare provision.