No sign of slow-down in sickie epidemic

Apr 10 2007 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Britain's bosses are convinced that their staff just can't resist the lure a long weekend or a day off to watch a sporting event at their expense, with new figures suggesting that around one in eight of workplace absences involve staff "pulling a sickie" - normally at the beginning or end of a week.

Employees in the UK took an average of seven days off sick in 2006, losing 175 million working days and costing the economy £13.4bn, according to the annual absence survey by employers group the CBI and insurer AXA.

This represents an increase on 2005, which averaged 6.6 days sick per employee and 164 million days lost.

The survey also revealed that long-term absence of 20 days or more accounts for 43 per cent of all working time lost, costing £5.8bn.

However in the public sector, just over half of absence (52%) is long-term, while in the private sector this was over a third (38%).

Despite the government's claims to be reducing absenteeism, the research revealed once again that public sector absence was 44 per cent higher than in the private sector.

The best performing organisations lost only 2.7 days per employee, while the worst lost twelve. The public sector had the highest average absence at nine days per employee, up half a day from 2005, while the private sector lost 6.3 days.

Reducing public sector absence levels to those of the private sector would save the UK taxpayer £1.1bn a year, the CBI pointed out, enough to build seven new general hospitals.

But separate research has revealed that public sector employers are significantly less likely to discipline or dismiss employees due to absence from work.

While the great majority of absences are genuine, the survey found that employers believe around one in eight (12%) are suspect and involve staff "pulling a sickie". That means 21 million days were lost in 2006 at a cost to the economy £1.6bn.

Seven out of 10 employers felt staff are inclined to create unauthorised long weekends by taking Mondays or Fridays off sick, while two-thirds said there is a link between sickies and holidays, and four out of 10 said absence is linked to special events, such as major sporting tournaments.

"There is a culture of absenteeism in some workplace that must be addressed," said Susan Anderson, CBI Director of Human Resources Policy.

"We've all just enjoyed the four day Easter weekend, but some people think they have a right to use 'sickies' to take long weekends or extend holidays as they please. Unauthorised absence puts colleagues under unfair pressure, and loses employers and taxpayers well over a billion pounds.

"The gap between organisations with the highest and lowest absences is over nine days, and clearly some are managing absence better than others," she added.

"Some degree of short-term absence is inevitable, but there is a lot that employers can do to manage it. The best organisations use a carrot and stick approach to reward good attendees and tackle the worst offenders."