Sickness absence cost UK economy £17bn

The UK economy lost 190 million working days to absence last year, with employees taking an average of 6.5 days off sick.

The rate of absence due to illness in 2010 was higher than in 2009, when the average number of days taken by each employee for sickness was 6.4 – the lowest rate since the CBI/Pfizer Absence and Workplace Health Survey began in 1987.

Lost working days cost employers £17 billion last year, including over £2.7 billion from 30.4 million days taken off for non-genuine illness absence, the report reveals.

Employees in the public sector took more days off work for sickness than those in the private sector – an average of 8.1 days a year compared with 5.9 days.

The survey also shows that long-term health problems account for 47 per cent of days lost in the public sector, compared to 27 per cent in the private sector.

Mental health issues are the single biggest cause of long-term absence followed by musculoskeletal disorders, back pain and cancer treatment.

Dr Berkeley Philips, UK medical director at Pfizer, says that long-term absence is a concern. ‘This report highlights the importance of early intervention and proactive management strategies to support employees and employers in tackling the factors contributing to long-term absence and supporting a return to work,’ he adds.

The business organisation CBI estimates that if public sector absence levels matched those in the private sector, it would save the taxpayer around £5 billion by 2015-16.

CBI chief policy director, Katja Hall, acknowledges that the ‘fit note’ medical certificate, launched on 6 April 2010, plays an ‘important role in helping people back to work’.

The scheme replaced the old ‘sick note’ and focuses on what the employee can do, rather than what they can’t.

However, Hall adds, ‘But employers are far from convinced that the scheme is working properly and don’t think GPs are getting the necessary training.’

Staff sickies on the rise

Overworked staff are more prone to taking sickies, claims a recruitment site.

Some 26 per cent of UK workers pulled at least one sickie last year, according to a survey from

Of those, 16 per cent said they didn’t feel like going into work, 13 per cent had a job interview lined up and 12 per cent wanted to catch up with housework or just relax.

Jason Ferrara, senior career advisor for CareerBuilder, says reduced workforces and longer hours could be reasons behind staff missing work. ‘We see more employers today expanding the definition of sick time for workers who need a day off to recharge,’ he says.

However, in a separate survey of 250 employers, 29 per cent say they have fired a member of staff for missing work without a legitimate excuse.

Of the 480 workers polled, 6 per cent called in sick due to bad weather or because they had plans with friends or family.

Nick Britton

Nick Britton

Nick was the Managing Editor for when it was owned by Vitesse Media, before moving on to become Head of Investment Group and Editor at What Investment and thence to Head of Intermediary...

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