Billions lost as sick leave reaches epidemic levels

Employees are taking more time off sick each year, costing UK businesses
more than £500 for every employee.

The CIPD’s Employee Absence 2002survey shows sickness absence is a growing problem,
and the number of working days lost has risen to 10 from 9.3 in 2001, with
stress being the most common cause of long-term absenteeism.

The survey of more than 1,300 HR professionals finds that sickness absence
costs employers an average of £522 for each employee per year. This amounts to
an estimated annual cost of £13bn for the UK economy as a whole.

For non-manual staff, stress is the most common cause of long-term absence
of more than four weeks, and was cited by 44 cent of survey respondents. The
second most frequently cited cause was acute medical conditions, reported by 28
per cent of respondents, with back pain the primary reason for sickness absence
among manual workers, cited by around 30 per cent. The survey shows that
long-term absence accounts for about a fifth of all absence.

CIPD lead adviser on public policy, Diane Sinclair, said the findings prove
that employers need to take workplace stress seriously.

"Our survey suggests that organisations need to do more to tackle
stress. The reasons for work-related stress and its symptoms need to be
managed," she said.

To get people back to work after long periods off sick, employers most
commonly maintain regular contact with the employee, conduct ‘return-to-work’
interviews, and offer them reduced working hours on a temporary or permanent

Employers have a range of strategies for minimising the incidence of
long-term absence in their organisations. The most common are providing
sickness absence guidance to line managers (used by 81 per cent of
organisations), identifying absence triggers (78 per cent), involvement of
occupational health professionals (77 per cent), reducing sick pay after a
specified period of absence (76 per cent), and disciplinary action for
unjustified absence (75 per cent).

By Ben Willmott

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