Public sector suffers as absence levels rise

public sector workers take most time off and more than half of the UK’s
employers report an increase in stress-related ‘sickies’ in latest CIPD absence

sector organisations suffer from the highest average levels of sickness
absence, and stress is increasingly to blame, according to a major new survey.

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Employee Absence 2004
survey showed average levels of sickness absence stand at 4 per cent of working
days or 9.1 working days per employee – a slight increase from 3.9 per cent
(nine days) for the previous year.

survey of 1,110 UK employers shows the highest rate of absence is in the public
sector at 10.7 days and the lowest rates are within the private sector at 7.8

average cost of absence now stands at £588 per employee per year, a rise of 3.7
per cent on last year’s figure of £567.

minor illnesses such as colds and flu remain the most important cause of
sickness absence for all UK workers, the report shows the effect of stress is
growing, with 52 per cent of employers reporting an increase.

is the biggest cause of long-term absence for non-manual workers and the fourth
biggest cause for manual staff.

main causes of stress-related absence are identified as workload, with 68 per
cent of employers identifying this as a reason, management style/relationships
at work (60 per cent), organisational change (45 per cent) and pressure to meet
targets (41 per cent).

of the report, Ben Willmott, the CIPD’s employee relations adviser, said a
large part of managing stress was down to good people management.

is about providing employees with well-defined jobs roles, challenging but
realistic targets and the support, training and recognition to help them
achieve the targets,” he said.

than three-quarters of employers are taking action to combat work-related
stress, including taking steps to improve work-life balance, introducing stress
audits/risk assessments and introducing training for managers and staff.

key findings of the report:

More than 90 per cent of HR professionals believe GPs issue sick-notes too

However, 60 per cent think they should continue to provide the service

The highest absence levels are found in the food and drink, tobacco and
transport sectors (12 days per year), health (11.6), central government (11.6)
and mining and quarrying (11.2 days).

The lowest absence levels are found in consultancy (5.5 days per year), IT (5.6
days), media and publishing (6 days), telecommunications (7 days) and
agriculture and forestry (7.1).        

More than 90 per cent of HR practitioners believe that absence can be reduced
and 49 per cent have a target to achieve this. Only 46 per cent monitor the
cost of absence.

Nearly nine in 10 organisations have a written absence management policy and
three-quarters have changed their approach in the past two years.

Return-to-work interviews are seen as the most effective way of managing
short-term absence (cited by 63 per cent of organisations) – almost double that
of the next most effective method, disciplinary procedures (35 per cent).

Welsh workers top the regional absence league with an average of 10.7 days per
year, which compares with a London average of 6.9 days.

By Michael Millar

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