Workers in the UK are among the healthiest of any in Europe, according to a survey of more than 29,000 people across the entire continent.
Far from being a nation of shirkers, the study found just one in five Britons (21%) complaining that work affects their health, making the UK the least unhealthy place to work in Europe – at least in the opinion of the people who work here.
By contrast, across all 27 EU member states, one in three (35%) of those questioned complained that work affects their health. This figure rose to more than two-thirds (68%) of Greeks, with workers from new EU member states among the most likely to report problems.
In seeking to explain national differences, the authors of the Fourth European Working Conditions Survey point out that employees in some industries were more likely to report work-related health problems, and that these industries were more common in Eastern Europe.
Agriculture and construction were perceived to be among the least healthiest industries to work in, while financial intermediation was the best. The self-employed are also less likely to report that work affects their health, and they too are more common in the West.
The study, carried out by the EU-funded European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, is based on face-to-face interviews with 29,766 people, including more than 1,000 in the UK.
…and stats show they are not far off
Strangely enough, people’s perceptions of the effect that work has on their health appears to find little echo in the number of days they take off sick, the survey shows.
While Greek workers perceive themselves to be the sickest men and women of Europe – at least in terms of work-related impact – their absence record is actually one of the healthiest. Only Romanians take fewer days off work for health-related reasons.
At the other end of the spectrum, staff in The Netherlands believe they are among the healthiest of Europeans, but their absence record reveals that they take on average 8.6 days a year off work, compared with an EU average of 4.6 days.
Employees in the UK, meanwhile, have an average sickness absence level of just 3.7 days on the measure used in this research – confirming their own perception that their work holds few threats for their health.
UK workers match up to the European average for sick leave on only one measure: 22.6% of UK staff and 22.9% across the 27 EU member states take at least some time off work.
On this measure, Europe’s absence champions are from Finland, where 44.7% of the workforce take some time off through sickness every year. Romanians clearly struggle in to work no matter what, with just 11.4% taking time off through illness each year.
…but it’s bad news for civil servants
While public sector workers in the UK are often criticised for having high levels of sickness absence, the study reveals that they are in line with public sector workers in other European countries.
More than twice as many people working in public administration (30.7%) than in agriculture (14.2%) take time off each year, with those in education also having high levels of absence.
The report also shows that if the physical injuries don’t harm you, the psychological stresses will. It says that agricultural workers commonly report symptoms such as back-ache and muscular pain, but rarely complain of stress-related ill-health.
By contrast, those in education, health and public administration have high levels of reported problems with fatigue, headaches and irritability, but seldom complain of physical injuries.
Those in financial services and the wholesale and retail sector are least affected by either set of problems.
Click here for the full report.