Sickness absence rates predicted to decline by 25% across public and private sectors

A leading business academic has forecast that sickness absence will decline by a quarter over the next year across public and private sectors, but only because people will be too scared not to show up for work.

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University, told delegates at the Working Families conference in London today that employers would witness a reduction in sickness absence, as employees fearful of job security would start to attend work when ill.

Earlier this year a report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that private sector employers were noticing a 20% drop in sickness absence, as fears over job security grew.

But Cooper told Personnel Today the public sector was about to witness it too. He said: “I predict that over the next six months to a year we are going to start seeing sickness absence decline because people are becoming too frightened of being off ill because it makes them more vulnerable for job cuts.

“It will happen across sectors, private and public. The public sector is beginning to manage changes and they will have big budget cuts next year, the Civil Service, NHS, all of it.”

Sickness absence currently costs UK private sector employers £692 per employee per year, and public sector organisations £784 per employee per year, according to recent research by the CIPD.

On average, employees in the public sector take 9.7 days per year sick leave, compared with 6.4 days in the private sector, according to the CIPD.

When asked how much sickness absence would reduce by, Cooper said: “It will drop dramatically. There will be an element which is not stress- or ‘presenteesim’-related, but it will drop by 20% to 25% at a time when it’s been rising steadily.”

He added managers and HR teams may be tempted to read the figures wrongly, assuming that sickness absence policies have worked. However, he said: “There will be some real decline in sickness absence because some organisations are getting to what underpins it.

“But particularly in those industries where job losses or mergers have already occurred or something has occurred as a result of the downturn, I think people are giving up sick leave already.”

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