Lower sick pay coincides with a fall in high UK sickness absence

The proportion of British companies reporting high rates of staff sickness fell to less than half that reported in Germany and France over a five-year period in the middle of the last decade, according to research by the University of Wolverhampton.

The fall was partly because of the UK having lower sick pay and not having strong employment protection, a British Sociological Association conference heard in September.

Report author Dr Wen Wang, of the university’s business school, said that in 2004, around 17% of UK firms studied said they had high rates of staff sickness, compared with 9% in 2009.

By contrast, 24% of the firms studied in Germany said they had high staff sickness in 2009, up from 17% in 2004. In France, the percentage fell from 29% in 2004 to 21% in 2009.

The researchers analysed statistics on 2,620 private-sector firms with more than 10 employees in the three countries and concluded that the lower staff sickness in 2009 in the UK was statistically linked to a range of factors, including:

  • less overtime worked, with overtime earning extra pay rather than time off in lieu;
  • more profit sharing among staff;
  • less variation in workload than in Germany and France; and
  • a good working atmosphere.

The higher rates seen in Germany at the same time were statistically linked to factors including laws that made sacking or disciplining staff difficult for employers, generous sick pay, high numbers of staff working overtime and increased workload variation, the study added.

“Workplace absence through sickness was reported to cost British business £32 billion a year – our findings show that Germany and France suffered even bigger losses,” Wang said.

“Strong employment protection and generous sick pay were empirically found to contribute to increased staff sickness absence in Germany and France. Employment protection is still much higher and sick pay is more generous in Germany and France. Our results also show that a friendly and supportive working environment can reduce sickness, regardless of nationality.”

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