Sickness absence in the Civil Service fell by an average of one day per person in 2004, with 40% of staff taking no sick leave at all, according to the latest government figures.
Statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions – the largest government department – recorded an absence rate of 9.6 days, compared with 11.6 days in 2003.
Jobcentre Plus reported 9.8 days’ sickness absence, down from 12 in 2003, and the Child Support Agency was down to 11.6 days, compared with 13.8 two years ago.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said these figures indicated that the increased management focus on absence in the public sector – including more use of occupational health and other interventions – is starting to make a difference.
Jonathan Rees, deputy chief executive of the HSE, said the drive to boost efficiency and productivity was making firms recognise the need to manage the health and well-being of all employees, not just those who were unwell or off sick.
“The cost of sickness absence is high, at nearly £400m each year in the Civil Service and around £900m in local government,” he said. “There are signs that work on this problem is having an impact.”
Rees cited the example of the Royal Mail. By looking at incentives such as bonuses for not taking time off work, overhauling its OH systems and referring cases of stress or musculoskeletal disorders to OH advisers from day one, the business made savings of £80m on a £3.5m investment.
“This is the equivalent of having 2,000 extra staff available every working day, making it much easier to achieve its business targets,” he added.
The HSE’s Stress Management Standards have also had an impact since they were introduced in November last year.
At West Dorset NHS Trust, which in 2003 received an enforcement notice to improve its record on stress, using the standards had reduced the absence rate from 8% to 4.5% in just eight weeks, Rees added.