The Royal Mail may have reduced its absenteeism rate by 11 per cent thanks to a controversial scheme under which workers who did not take time off sick could win a holiday or a car, but for other employers in Britain, the problem is only getting worse.
According to research by employment firm Peninsula, eight out of 10 employers have experienced an increase in employee absence which is costing their businesses financially.
These figures mark a significant increase on a similar survey carried out last year. Then two-thirds of firms said that absenteeism was getting worse.
"Employers obviously need to regain their role in the workplace and simply not allow absenteeism to develop within the company's business culture," said Peninsula's Peter Done.
But the all-pervasive influence of the 'sickie culture' was starkly outlined in another Peninsula survey last year which found that more than eight out of ten employees are prepared to fake an illness so that they can take a day of work.
What's more, three-quarters of bosses also admitted that they pull a sickie from time to time.
A quarter of those questioned said that they had feigned illness once in the last twelve months. More than a third had done so twice, 17 per cent have done it three times and a sneaky seven per cent said that they had done it on more than five occasions
The 2004 survey also found that two-thirds of those who skived off did not feel guilty about it.
But following claims earlier this week from HR consultants Croner that schemes such as the one introduced by Royal Mail could fall foul of employment law, Peter Done suggests that a better way of tackling the problem is through monitoring systems that ensures all cases of absence are checked and certified.
Employers should also be prepared to take strong disciplinary measures if cases of fake illness were uncovered, he said, but be very careful to make sure that each case was heard fairly.
"There will be nothing more damaging than employers losing the trust of their employees, so great care is required," he warned.
The number of working days lost in 2003 rose by 10 million to 176 million, at a cost to employers in lost productivity of some £11.6bn.