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March 28, 2010

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Public-sector workers are ‘mucus troopers’, says TUC

The TUC has rubbished claims by the Government that there are easy and substantial financial savings to be made in the public sector by reducing sickness absence.

Last week’s budget underlined how reducing sickness absence would form a key part of the drive for so-called efficiency savings in the public sector. It said: “The 2009 Pre-Budget Report announced that cutting the costs of the senior civil service by 20 per cent and reducing sickness absences would save £140 million by 2012-13.”

The TUC has hit back with new research, which, it argues, smashes the myth that public servants are always on the look-out for an excuse to pull a ‘sickie’.

According to the report, ‘The truth about sickness absence’, public-sector workers are more likely than private-sector colleagues to work when too ill to do so and less likely than private-sector staff to take a short period off sick, or ‘sickie’.

While public-sector workers take longer periods off work for illness or injury than those who work in the private sector, many are employed in stressful and dangerous public-sector jobs.

A TUC poll found that:
• Within the last month, more than one in five public-sector workers have been to work when they were too ill to do so (21 per cent).
• One in three public-sector workers cited their reason for going into work when unwell as ‘people depend on the job I do and I didn’t want to let them down’.
• Others were concerned about the impact their absence would have on colleagues – 18 per cent of public-sector workers compared with 12 per cent of private-sector workers said this was the case.

Public-sector employers are more likely to be supportive of those with long-term illnesses and have good sickness policies in place, adds the report.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “People often talk about a ‘sicknote culture’ in the UK. . . The truth is we are really a nation of mucus troopers, where workers – particularly those in the public sector – routinely go into work when they are too ill and should be at home. And they do this – not because they are afraid of their boss – but because they know they do vital jobs in over-stretched workplaces.

“Absence rates have been falling over time in the public and private sectors. It is a myth that there are big, quick and easy savings from new policies that assume that sickness absence is mostly skiving.

“Of course, positive sickness-absence policies are important in the public and private sectors. But there is most to gain from tackling the causes of absence, particularly stress, and helping people return to work.

Writing in his blog, workplace stress expert Professor Cary Cooper, said: “Absence management processes are a good idea, but they only get you so far if underlying physical and psychological well-being is poor.”

He went on: “A crude and punitive approach to absence management can do more damage than the absence itself! The savings that the Government is aiming for are achievable, but only if primary causes are addressed in an integrated and coordinated manner.”

The TUC report, The truth about sickness absence, is available at

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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