Sick days hit lowest level in two decades

The number of days lost through absence across the UK has fallen to its lowest level in almost 20 years, figures published yesterday have revealed.

The latest CBI/AXA absence report – regarded as the annual benchmark for measuring sickness absence – shows days lost across the sectors fell in 2005 by four million to 164 million days. This is the lowest level since the survey began in 1987.

However, the direct cost of staff absence, based on salary costs of absent individuals, temporary cover and lost service or production time, rose to more than £13bn in 2005. This equates to an average of £531 per employee, up from £495 last year.

The report put this down to a greater recognition of the cost of absence and the increasing costs of obtaining temporary cover.

The public sector was, again, the one with the highest level of absence – 8.5 days lost per employee – 2.5 days more than the private sector average. At the current rate of progress, the public sector would take 30 years to reach current levels in the private sector, the survey said.

The report suggests a “culture of absenteeism” still exists in too many workplaces. Employers said they thought as many as 13% of days lost to sickness in 2005 were down to staff ‘pulling sickies’ – at a cost of £1.2bn to the economy.

The CBI warned that the World Cup this summer could lead to more staff taking unauthorised days off to watch matches.

John Cridland, CBI deputy director-general, said: “Nobody wants staff to drag themselves in to work when they are genuinely ill. But there is clearly a concern that a culture of absenteeism still exists in some workplaces, and this must change.”

A yawning gap of almost nine days still remains between the best- and worst-performing organisations. The survey estimates that if the worst organisations could raise their performance to the same level as the best, the overall cost of absence would fall by 5.4bn.

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Find out how Brent Council tackled sickness absence

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