The stubbornly high level of public sector sickness absence is really beginning to grate with me. To make matters worse, we have the government preaching to us in the private sector about being good employers and setting an example with healthy workplaces, when its own employees are persistently taking more time off.
Its argument is essentially that if employers encourage healthy lifestyles, fewer workers will take time off, thus easing the burden on the welfare system and health service. Fair enough, but when the CBI’s annual absence figures consistently put average private sector sickness absence at several days less than the public sector, the government’s policies begin to falter.
To further rub salt into the proverbial wound, recent Cabinet Office stats estimated that Whitehall sickness absence alone cost the government £425m last year. That is a staggeringly large amount of money that could, in theory, be invested elsewhere.
The government is repeatedly banging on about public sector efficiency savings and releasing resources to the front line ‘to improve service-delivery’, à la Gershon. Here we have almost half a billion pounds that is lost every year, mostly to malingering civil servants, which could radically change government services for the better.
To me, it’s a classic case of the ‘do as we say and not as we do’ mantra that is becoming all too commonplace in modern government. The public sector, and in particular the Civil Service, needs to get its own house in order if it really wants to persuade private firms to make a change.