Sickness absence gap widens between public and private sector

A drop in private sector sickness absence, which 20% of employers put down to fears over job security, has further widened the gap between private and public sector absence levels, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development’s (CIPD) annual Absence Management Survey.

The survey of more than 600 employers shows that while private sector absence has fallen from 7.2 days to 6.4 days per employee per year, public sector rates remained high, averaging 9.7 days compared to 9.8 days for the previous year.

Ben Willmott, senior public policy adviser at the CIPD, said: “It appears that the recession has contributed to a fall in the overall level of employee absence, with private sector absence levels at the lowest levels ever recorded by the survey. It is disappointing that public sector absence levels remain so high.”

The overall level of workplace absence across all sectors of the economy now averages 7.4 days per employee per year – a loss of 185 million working days at an overall cost to the UK economy of £17.3bn. This figure is, however, down from the eight days recorded in the same report 12 months ago.

Reducing public sector absence to the level now managed in private sector services would cut the annual cost of public sector absence from £4.5bn to £3.8bn – saving the taxpayer £700 a year, according to the report.

Key report findings

  • The average cost of absence is £692 per employee per year.

  • The average cost of public sector absence is £784 per employee.

  • The main causes of long-term absence are acute medical conditions, stress and mental health conditions, and musculoskeletal conditions and back pain.

  • A fifth (21%) of employers said they had noticed an increase in the proportion of people coming to work ill over the past 12 months.

  • One in five respondents said there had been an increase in reported mental health problems such as anxiety and depression in the past 12 months.

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