Public sector absence is 25% higher than the private sector at almost 10 days per employee per year, compared to 7.5 days for businesses, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
Yet public sector employers are significantly less likely to discipline or dismiss employees due to absence from work, its annual Absence Management survey of 1,000 UK employers reveals.
Overall, public sector absence fell from 10.3 days per employee per year to 9.9 days, with the health sector reporting the greatest fall from 11.6 days to 10.4 days.
Absence rates in the education sector also fell significantly from 9.8 days to 9.1 days.
However, central government and local government reported increases in their absence rates to 10.5 days and 11 days respectively.
Ben Willmott, CIPD employee relations adviser and author of the report, said: “While it is encouraging that overall levels of employee absence, and particularly public sector absence, have fallen over the last year, the gap between public and private sector absence remains stubbornly wide.
“Managing absence is a challenge for all employers. A balance has to be struck between providing support and rehabilitation and providing a robust absence management process which uses disciplinary procedures where necessary.
“Nonetheless, there does seem to be a cultural difference between how this issue is managed in the private and public sectors,” he added.
The research finds that public sector organisations are significantly less likely than private sector employers to:
- Refer to disciplinary procedures in absence management policies
- Have required employees to attend disciplinary hearings in relation to absence in the last 12 months
- Have dismissed employees for absence in the previous 12 months
- Restrict sick pay for unacceptable levels of absence
- Take account of employees’ attendance records as part of their performance appraisals.
Public sector organisations are more likely than private sector employers to:
- Refer to capability procedures in their absence management policies
- Manage a larger proportion of absence as health-related
- Believe a smaller proportion of absence is not genuine.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber claimed that the CIPD report “peddles the tired old myth that public sector workers are more likely to take time off work sick”.
“Recent research from the Health and Safety Executive shows that one of the main reasons why surveys tend to show greater levels of public sector absence is because the private sector traditionally under-reports time taken off sick by its employees,” he said.
“Also this research ignores the fact that public sector employers are more likely to try to retain members of staff who have been off work whereas workers who take time off ill in the private sector run the risk of being sacked. Better sick pay schemes in the public sector also allow staff to be off until they are better, whilst a lack of cash often forces many private sector employees to return to work before they are well.”