Government guidelines have been issued which aim to help employers cut the number of workers on long-term sick leave and to provide support to encourage them back to work.

The recommendations, issued by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), include suggestions for employers to keep in contact with staff members who are off sick.

Nice has suggested that employees should be consulted on and jointly agree "all planned health, occupational or rehabilitation interventions or services and the return-to-work plan".

Commenting on the importance of the guidelines, professor David Croisdale-Appleby, who was involved in drawing up the report, said: "It is in both parties’ interest that employees get back to work as soon as possible after illness.

"We are recommending some very simple and straightforward measures that even the smallest employer can implement. These include keeping in regular positive contact with the staff member when they are off sick, thereby ensuring that they don’t feel isolated."

Recent research undertaken by the Work Life Balance Centre in conjunction with Coventry University revealed that there had been a marked increase in the number of employees reporting stress-related illnesses.