Absence from work falls to record low of 5.3 days on average in 2012

15th July 2013

Absence from work in the UK has dropped to a new record low. The latest CBI/Pfizer Absence and Workplace Health Survey says that the average absence rate was 5.3 days in 2012, down from 6.5 days in 2010 this saving business £3 billion.

Absence rates in both the public and private sector were down to 6.9 (from 8.1) and 4.9 (from 5.9) days respectively.

Mental health conditions emerged as the single most widespread cause of long-term absence from the workplace.

The report, Fit for Purpose, found overall absences still cost the economy £14 billion a year, according to the ONS.

Almost £1.8 billion was lost from an estimated one-in-eight sick days taken for non-genuine reasons, with one in five employers believing employees take “sickies” as an occasional perk.

The report argues more than £1.2 billion a year can be saved if public sector absence levels were brought in line with the private sector average – on top of the £700 million saved from the fall since 2010.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of employers claim the new fit note system is not being used to its full potential. The fit note sees doctors outline for employers what staff can actually do in work – unlike the old sick note system which simply signed people off.

HR managers in 153 public and private sector organisations, employing 850,000 workers, responded to the survey.

Neil Carberry, CBI Director of Employment and Skills says: “The record low shows employers are getting much better at tackling the root causes of absence. This is down to stronger staff engagement, initiatives to foster employee health and better re-integration plans after longer-term sick leave.

“But there is no room for complacency. Clearly, when staff are sick, they should not be in work, but there’s a lot more employers can do to tackle absence at a time when growth is fragile.

“The cost of non-genuine sick days is high and it is worrying that more than one in five employers think staff take paid absence as an occasional perk.”

“Public sector managers must save every single penny when budgets are under such immense pressure. The falls in absence over the last two years are good news but there is much more to do. We need to make sure this progress continues.”

Average levels of absence climb with organisation size. Smaller firms average under five days of absence per employee while larger firms average nearly six days

Mental health conditions are the single most widespread cause of long-term absence, with more than half (54%) of employers citing non-work related stress, anxiety and depression as a cause of long-term absence for non-manual workers, and slightly fewer (42%) for manual workers.

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