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June 8, 2010

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One in seven sick days is spurious, says business group

Around 27 million bogus sick days are taken every year, costing the UK economy £2.5bn, suggests the latest employee absence survey from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Pfizer.

The total of 180 million sick days cost employers about £16.8bn in 2009, not including indirect costs, such as reduced customer service. Employees did however record the lowest rate of absence since the survey began in 1987, averaging 6.4 days each in 2009, down slightly from 6.7 days per employee in 2007 – the previous year in which research was carried out.

CBI director of employment policy, Katja Hall, commented: “The rate of employee absence has come down, but it still costs the economy billions of pounds a year. If absence levels across the board could be reduced by 10 per cent, the economy would see annual savings of just under £1.7 billion.

“Unfortunately, bogus sick days remain a problem, and are unfair on hard-working colleagues and employers alike.”

The public sector also came under attack, after the survey revealed that its employees took an average of 8.3 days a year, 2.5 days more than their private-sector counterparts – although this represents an improvement on the 9 days the public sector recorded in 2007.

Added Ms Hall: “Although the rate of employee absence has fallen in the public sector, it is still a lot higher than in the private sector, and this issue should be addressed, especially given that the public finances are strained. We estimate that £5.5bn could be saved by 2015-16 if the public sector matched the private sector’s absence rate.

“Improved rehabilitation and workplace-health policies are a key part of achieving this, but so is ensuring that absence, where it occurs, is justified.”

The survey also showed that long-term absence is a particular problem, with back pain and mental health the chief causes. Although long-term absence only accounted for 5 per cent of overall absence cases, the longer periods meant that it accounted for one in five lost days in the private sector and more than a third of lost days in the public sector.

On a positive note, employer awareness of the business benefits of health and well-being is growing, with more companies putting in place rehabilitation plans and support to help get staff back to work sooner. The survey showed that 95 per cent of organisations have a formal absence policy – up 10 per cent on 2007.

Asked what the government could do to help, responses centred around doctors: 63 per cent of employers wanted to see better occupational-health training for GPs; 56 per cent wanted to see better working relationships between GPs and occupational-health professionals; and 41 per cent wanted more flexible GP working hours.

Three quarters of those surveyed also welcomed the ‘fit note’, which replaced sick notes in April this year, agreeing that the scheme would help people get back to work sooner.

“This report, which unites the causes and consequences of absence together with an examination of proactive management strategies, is important,” concluded Dr Berkeley Phillips, UK medical director at Pfizer Ltd. “It mirrors a change in the attitude of both employers and policy-makers, who are recognising the direct and indirect benefits of investment in the health and well-being of the UK workforce.”

Commenting on the CBI’s findings, a spokesperson for the Public and Commercial Services Union told SHP: “The CBI, unsurprisingly, only tells half the story. Sickness absence in the public sector is understandably higher on average because of the nature of the work. A higher proportion of public servants work in very stressful and challenging environments, often with reduced staffing and increased workloads, and this can have serious consequences for workers’ health and well-being.”

The survey questioned 241 private-sector companies and public-sector organisations, which, together, employ more than 1.28 million people – equivalent to 5.12 per cent of the UK workforce.

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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Nigel
Nigel
14 years ago

It is interesting how sick days are described as “bogus”. Presumably, the estimate is a guess based either on an employee confessing that the day was “bogus” or the employer determining that the cause of absence was “bogus”. What is it about the job that means people feel the need to take these “bogus” days? What are the root cause of these absences? Is it that the jobs have been so designed that people have no desire or commitment to their work? Surely, the challenge is to improve the design of work to the point where people enjoy work, feel… Read more »