Absence from work cost
the UK economy £13.2 billion last year as the average employee took
almost seven (6.7) days off sick, while the gulf between absence rates
in the public sector and the private sector grew to a record level, new
research revealed today (Wednesday).
The latest CBI / AXA Absence Survey showed
that average absence levels across the public sector stood at nine
days, which is 55% higher than the 5.8 day average of the private
sector. The private sector improved its absence levels over 2007, while
the public sector stood still. £1.4bn of taxpayers' money could be
saved if public sector organisations matched the private sector average.
The survey also revealed that of the 172
million days lost to absence in 2007, more than one in ten (12%) are
thought to be non-genuine. These 21 million "sickies" cost the economy
£1.6bn and two-thirds (65%) of employers think that some staff are
using them to extend weekends. 60% said that fake sickness was used to
extend holiday, and a third of employers (34%) suspect that sickies are
used for special events like birthdays and major football games.
Long-term absence (20 days or more) also
continued to be a serious concern for firms. Although only 5% of
absence spells became long-term, they accounted for a massive 40% of
all time lost, costing £5.3bn. Long-term absence accounted for half
(50%) of all time lost in the public sector, but under a third (31%) in
the private sector.
Susan Anderson, CBI Director of HR Policy, said:
"Everyone agrees that sick people need time
off work. But employers face two serious and expensive challenges -
dealing with bogus sick days, and helping those with long-term illness
return to work when they are fit to do so.
"People who awarded themselves sickies to
enjoy the recent sunny weather or to extend a weekend away are acting
unfairly, leaving their colleagues to pick up their work, and costing
taxpayers and employers over a billion pounds a year.
"Those with long-term illnesses need time
to recover - nobody expects anyone to be at the office checking their
emails the day after a heart bypass. But in many cases, like those
involving stress or back pain, firms that keep in touch with employees
and offer flexible working have been successful at reducing long-term
"A fresh, proactive approach to managing
long-term absence could help stem the flow onto incapacity benefit -
which currently costs £12.5bn a year for 2.5m people - and help
employers to retain skilled employees, many of whom will find that work
can improve their health and outlook.
"But we really have to question if there is
a medical explanation for the higher levels of long-term absence in the
public sector. Low morale, poor management and a culture of absence are
at least partly to blame."
Absence levels varied greatly across
organisations, and there were 9.3 days of difference between the best
and worst performers. The survey showed that, while a certain level of
absence is both acceptable and inevitable, absence can be managed and
reduced through a mixture of 'carrot and stick' policies, like offering
medical insurance, health support or flexible working, whilst also
having formal absence management processes, such as not paying sick pay
for the first three days of absence.
In 2007 the average direct cost of absence
was £517 per employee - or 3.1% of payroll - which includes lost
production and the expense of covering absence with temporary staff or
overtime. The CBI also estimates that indirect costs, such as lower
customer satisfaction, add another £263 per employee per year. When
these indirect costs are added to the direct cost, the UK lost £19.9bn
to absence in 2007.
The absence gap between manual and
non-manual workers continued to narrow, with averages of 7.6 days and
6.1 days respectively. Sectors with the highest rates included the
public sector (9 days) and utilities (7.6 days), while IT, professional
services, and hotels, restaurants and tourism recorded the lowest with
4.5, 4.2, and 4 days respectively.
In the public sector, the highest absence
rates were found in health/social care services (12.6 days) and police
& probation services (9.9 days), while education saw lower overall
levels (7.5 days). Some suggest
that higher public sector absence can be explained by organisation size
or the prevalence of manual staff, but figures in the CBI / AXA survey
show this is untrue. There were
individual examples of superb performance across different types of
public sector organisations, which suggests that the right policies can
make a difference.
Organisations that recognised trade unions
saw three days more absence than in non-unionised workplaces - 8.1 days
against 5.1 days. This correlation between higher absence and unions is
found regardless of organisational size, or whether employees were
engaged in manual labour.
There were strong regional differences in
absence levels across the UK. The North West and Yorkshire &
Humberside lost the most days in 2007 (8.9 days each), followed by
Wales (7.6), West Midlands (7.5), South East (7.4), South West (7.2),
Scotland (6.8), Eastern (6.7), East Midlands (6.6) and Northern England
(6.5). The regions with the lowest levels were Southern England (5.6),
Northern Ireland (5.7) and Greater London (5.9).
Dudley Lusted, head of corporate healthcare development at AXA PPP, said:
"Short-term absence shouldn’t be an issue
for employers who have a positive workplace culture where people are
treated fairly and believe they have a future.
"Long-term absence – which is mainly due to
stress, anxiety and depression and to back pain and other
musculoskeletal disorders – is still a big problem, accounting for
forty per cent of lost working time.
"The NHS, which continues to struggle to
deal with people suffering from these conditions, is partly to blame,
but arguably the bigger culprit is ineffectual management that lets
people drift rather than helping them to get better.
"It’s ludicrous to pay people not to work
when the tools to deal effectively with these debilitating conditions,
through early intervention and treatment, are so well established and
readily to hand; it’s no accident that employers who provide access to
this have lower absence rates than those who don’t."
Minor ailments, such as colds, were named
as the most significant cause of short-term absence, while back pain
came second. Non-work-related stress, anxiety and depression was the
most significant cause of long-term absence among non-manual staff.
Illness was easily the most common reason
for absence, but over half of employers said staff taking time off to
deal with home and family responsibilities was a cause of absence. A
third of employers said staff took time off to wait for medical
appointments, which highlights the need to make GP opening hours more
Indeed, asked what three steps the
government could take to help employers reduce absence, 56% of
respondents also asked for more flexible GP hours and 60% wanted a
better partnership between GPs and occupational health professionals.
More than two-thirds of employers want them to prioritise the
introduction of capability-focused medical certificates. “Fit notes”,
as some have dubbed them, would help an employer understand what duties
an employee can perform, helping them to make arrangements where
possible for an earlier or phased return to work.
More than two thirds of organisations (69%)
said they have a well-being policy, which encourages staff to lead
healthier, happier lives. 70% felt that 'praise for a job well done' is
the most important factor in raising staff morale. However, while 68%
of private employers believe morale is good or satisfactory in their
organisations, only 54% of public employers agreed.
The annual absence and labour turnover survey has been conducted since
1987. This year's survey was conducted between January and February
2008. Respondents were asked to report on absence and labour turnover
for 2007. Responses were received from 503 private sector companies and
public sector organisations who together employ more than one million
employees - equivalent to 3.6 per cent of the UK workforce.
2. If you are a journalist and wish to obtain a copy
of the report, please contact the CBI Press Office on 020 7395 8090 or
email email@example.com. Non media should contact Robert Don by
3. The CBI-AXA Absence Management Conference 2008 is
being held at the Inmarsat Conference Centre, London, on Wednesday May
14. Media wishing to attend the CBI-AXA Conference should visit http://www.neilstewartassociates.com/bn122/
4. The CBI is the UK's leading business
organisation, speaking for some 240,000 businesses that together employ
around a third of the private sector workforce. No other UK
organisation represents as many major employers, small and medium-size
firms or companies in the manufacturing or service sectors.
5. AXA is a world leader in financial protection.
Its UK healthcare arm, AXA PPP healthcare, is one of Britain's leading
medical insurers and today helps employers to develop and introduce
strategies to manage workplace health and wellbeing through health
audits, health screening and workplace health surveillance, medical and
dental cover (in conjunction with its sister company, Denplan), and
occupational health, attendance management and employee support
services. For more information please visit www.axappphealthcare.co.uk.
Contact: press office 01892 505 230.