Public services top the sick league

The gap between the number of sick days taken in the private services sector and the public sector has reached its widest in four years.

Average absence levels in the public sector stand at 10.3 days per employee per year compared to 6.8 days in private services sector, according to a survey of more than 1,000 organisations from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

Stress is one of the leading and growing causes of absence in the public sector with around half of public sector organisations citing stress as a leading cause of long-term absence for non-manual workers.

More than four in 10 public sector organisations said that stress levels had increased during the past year. Absence levels were highest in local government and the health sector.

Ben Willmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), said: “The high proportion of particularly challenging, public-facing roles in the public sector – such as police, healthcare, teaching, and social services – contribute to the higher than average levels of absence.”

There has been a tremendous amount of change in the public sector with employees working within increasingly target-driven environments, which has been a major cause of stress, Willmott added.

“Employers must consult with staff before making changes and involve them as much as possible to help gain their trust and commitment,” he said.

The highest absence levels were in the health sector (11.6 days per employee per year), food, drink and tobacco (11.2 days), the care services sector (11.2 days), and local government (10.9 days).

The cost of absence has increased to £601 per employee per year from £588 a year ago. The increase of 2.2% is less than the previous year’s increase when absence costs rose by 3.7% year-on-year.

Return-to-work interviews were seen as the most effective way of managing short-term absence, followed by disciplinary procedures for unacceptable absence and providing sickness absence information to line managers.

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