HR proves to be cure for Civil Service ills

Newly-published Civil Service sickness figures for 2004 have highlighted the massive disparity between the best- and worst-performing government departments.

Official government data, published last week, showed that staff sickness in the Civil Service cost the taxpayer 400m last year. An average of 9.1 working days were lost per member of staff, compared with 10 in 2003.

Across Whitehall, the Cabinet Office was the best-performing department with just 3.6 working days lost. The Inland Revenue – now merged with HM Customs & Excise – had by far the worst record for staff sickness absence, with 12 days lost.

A spokesman for the new HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) department admitted that the figure was “unacceptably high” and blamed a lack of focus on HR for its poor performance.

“Managers in many parts of HMRC were focused on customer service and business delivery in 2004,” the spokesman said. “It is possible that with the emphasis on these activities, difficult areas of people management were not given the same level of attention as in previous years.”

In contrast, Anne Copeland, head of HR at the Cabinet Office, said that good HR practices were the reason behind its good record on sickness absence.

“We work very hard on creating an environment of wellbeing and helping staff with any ‘life’ issues,” she said. “The work that we offer is challenging and rewarding, and that has a lot to do with [our performance].”

Copeland said the Cabinet Office had a dedicated HR resource that specifically targeted employees on long-term sick leave. “If you make employees feel valued then your absence rate reflects that,” she said.

CBI figures put private sector absence currently at 6.4 days per employee. It said workplace absence cost the UK economy a total of 12.2bn in 2004.

Last month, the Department for Work and Pensions said it would offer bonuses to employees who turned up for work in a bid to tackle sickness absence.

Working days lost per year

Government department (days lost)

  • Cabinet Office (3.6)
  • Health (3.8)
  • Treasury (4.1)
  • International Development (4.8)
  • Culture, Media and Sport (5.6)
  • Trade and Industry (7.1)
  • Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (7.4)
  • HM Customs & Excise (7.4)
  • Transport (7.5)
  • Home Office (8.6)
  • Constitutional Affairs (8.7)
  • Education and Skills (9.0)
  • Work and Pensions (9.6)
  • HM Prison Service (10.8)
  • Inland Revenue (12.0)
  • Overall (9.1)
  • Private sector (6.4)

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