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Absence costs UK economy £17 billion

Employees took 180 million sick days last year, averaging 6.4 days each, according to the latest CBI/Pfizer Absence and Workplace Health Survey.

GENERAL MERCHANDISE

Absence costs UK economy £17 billion

The rate of absence is the lowest since the survey began in 1987, and down slightly from 6.7 days per employee in 2007, the previous surveyed year. A small improvement in the public-sector absence rate helps explain the fall, but it remains significantly higher than the private-sector rate.

The impact of staff absence is considerable, with the 180 million sick days costing employers about £16.8bn in 2009, plus indirect costs like reductions in customer service and delays to teamwork.

Unfortunately, so-called "sickies" remain a problem. The senior HR staff surveyed at 241 public and private-sector organisations estimated that around 15%, or 27 million sick days weren't genuine, and cost the country £2.5bn a year.

The survey also shows that larger organisations had higher rates of absence than small ones, and that firms have increased their use of structured rehabilitation plans to help people with longer-term illnesses back to work.

Katja Hall, CBI Director of Employment Policy, said: "The rate of employee absence has come down, but it still costs the economy billions of pounds a year. If absence levels across the board could be reduced by 10%, the economy would see annual savings of just under £1.7 billion.

"Unfortunately, bogus sick days remain a problem, and are unfair on hard-working colleagues and employers alike."

In the public sector, employees took more sick days, with an average of 8.3 days per year, which is 43% higher than the private-sector figure of 5.8 days. The public sector's record improved since the last CBI absence survey covering 2007, when the average was 9 days. The recent CBI report Time for Action suggested that progress towards private sector absence levels could save £5.5bn by 2015-16.

Dr. Berkeley Phillips, UK Medical Director, Pfizer Ltd added : “We have long known that mental health, back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders are the leading causes of long-term absence, and this year’s CBI report reinforces this. Whilst employers view loss of productivity as the main impact of absence, as this report highlights, the economic consequences stretch much further and as such, we as a society, need to do more to advance health and wellness at every stage of life.”

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