Government departments could do more to tackle civil service ‘sickie’ culture

The Cabinet Office has admitted that government departments “can do more” to reduce staff sickness absence.

Figures showing that the absence rate across the Civil Service in 2006-07 increased slightly on the previous year, with an average of 9.3 days lost per employee, were quietly released earlier this month. This equates to more than 4.1 million working days lost, at a cost to the taxpayer of £393m.

The problem is probably even greater, because no information was available from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). The department accounts for about 20% of all staff covered by the analysis.

It employs more younger and female staff – statistically shown to be more likely to take time off than other groups – than the Civil Service as a whole. This would have a “noticeable effect” on the totals, the report said.

HMRC said the introduction of a new HR reporting system in October 2006 meant a complete set of data could not be provided “in the format required”.

The highest absence rate among all departments and government agencies was the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, where 18.7 days were lost per worker. The Department for Transport was the worst-performing and the Cabinet Office the best.

In a statement, the Cabinet Office pointed to figures that showed 44% of civil servants had no recorded absence in 2006-07 and more than three quarters took less than five working days off sick in the year. “However, as a fair and responsible employer, we realise that we can always do more to reduce absence,” it said.

Departments will now monitor sickness rates on a monthly basis, it added.

Working days lost per year

Department   Average days lost    Total days lost
 Transport  12.4  220,115
 Work and Pensions  11.1  1,361,196
 Home Office  10.5  805,132
 Education and Skills  8.4  28,882
 Environment, Food & Rural Affairs  7.5  92,571
 Ministry of Defence  7.3  504,083
 Constitutional Affairs  7.0  186,001
 Communities and Local Government  6.5  19,878
 Health  6.4  22,692
 Trade and Industry  6.3  39,618
 Treasury  5.3  10,490
 International Development  5.0  9,001
 Culture, Media and Sport  4.8  3,158
 Cabinet Office  3.3  7,151
 Overall – all agencies  9.3  4,117,975

Source: Analysis of sickness absence in the Civil Service

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