UK sickness absence hits 20-year high point

Official figures released last week show that more working days than ever
before are being lost because of sickness absence.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics’ Labour Force Survey reveal
that almost 2.2 million working days were lost to sickness in autumn 2001,
compared to 1.9 million days the previous summer.

It is the first time there has been a significant increase in the levels of
sickness absence for 20 years. The figure had previously remained static at
just under two million days.

The research reveals that women are more likely to be off sick than men,
with absence levels among female employees at 3.8 per cent on average compared
to 3 per cent for male staff.

According to the survey younger staff have the highest levels of absence.
Men aged 25 to 29 years old and women in the 20 to 24 age group are most likely
to take time off work.

For men the highest absence rates were in customer-facing occupations and
the lowest were among managers and senior officials who were absent on average
for only 2.4 per cent of working days. Among women the absence rates were
highest among process, plant and machine operatives.

John Knell, director of research at the Work Foundation, said the ONS
findings tie in with the general downturn in employee satisfaction revealed in
the organisation’s Working in Britain Survey.

"The fact that they [sickness absence levels] have increased is
significant and it might reflect staff satisfaction levels. The largest
increases in dissatisfaction levels between 1992 and 2000 were for workload and
working hours," he said.

"According to our survey the number of people who only work as hard as
they have to has doubled and one avenue for dissatisfaction is sick days."

By Ross Wigham

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