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May 21, 2008

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Rising gulf between public and private-sector absence

The gap between sickness absence rates in the public and private sectors has hit a new high, according to the latest CBI/AXA absence survey.

The study found average absence levels across the public sector to be nine days per worker — 55 per cent higher than the 5.8-day average for the private sector. The highest absence rates were found in health/social care services (12.6 days), and police and probation services (9.9 days).

While the private sector improved its absence levels compared with last year, the public sector saw no change, leading the CBI to suggest that £1.4bn of taxpayers’ money could be saved if the public sector matched the private-sector average.

Long-term absence accounted for half of all time lost in the public sector, but under a third in the private sector. Said CBI director of HR policy, Susan Anderson: “Those with long-term illnesses need time to recover. . .But in many cases, like those involving stress or back pain, firms that keep in touch with employees and offer flexible working have been successful at reducing long-term absence levels.”

But she questioned whether there was a medical explanation for the higher levels of long-term absence in the public sector: “Low morale, poor management, and a culture of absence are, at least, partly to blame,” she maintained.

A spokesperson for public services union, Unison, hit back: “Comparing sickness and absence rates in the public sector to those in the private sector is a red herring. . .In local government, the constant drive for efficiency, coupled with staffing cuts and vacancies, all take their toll, leading to stress and burn-out.”

The TUC has championed the merits of flexible working to tackle stress and illness. Its general secretary, Brendan Barber, argued: “As we enter a period of economic uncertainty, it’s tempting for employers to retreat from innovative working practices and instead work existing staff harder and longer. But the need for increased productivity is greater than ever, which makes this the perfect time for companies to introduce smarter working practices.”

The CBI survey came out in the same week that EEF — the manufacturers’ organisation published its Sickness Absence Report 2008. The report found that barriers to the rehabilitation of employees cost manufacturers £610m a year, while organisations that did not face barriers enjoyed 0.7-per-cent lower sickness absence rates than those that did. Obstacles were identified as misconceptions about the effect of the worker’s health condition, employee resistance, the role of GPs, and fears about employees being protected under the Disability Discrimination Act.

To obtain a copy of the CBI report, e-mail [email protected] The EEF survey can be purchased via its website, see link below.

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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