Sick days still costing business huge sums

Even with a slight decrease in the number of employee absences due to sickness, the cost of ‘sick days’ in the public and private sectors combined amounted to a loss of almost £17 billion last year.

A CBI survey found that last year U.K. workers took 180 million days off because of illness, or an average of 6.4 days each.  This was down by about 330,000 from 2007, and the lowest since the survey was first taken in 1987.

Overall, the public sector has a much higher incidence of employee sick days than the private sector.  Last year the gap was narrowed a little, but public sector workers still took an average of 8.3 days off during the year, compared to 5.8 in the private sector.

According to a report based on a survey in 241 public and private sector organizations,

part of the problem is malingering.  Roughly 15 percent of the absences due to sickness were the result of employees calling in sick when they really weren’t, and the bogus sick days cost about £2.5 billion in one year.

The leading causes of health-related absences from work have been established as mental health, back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders, said the U.K medical director at Pfizer, Dr. Berkeley Phillips.  In the case of many workers in the public health sector, i.e. hospitals and other medical facilities, the sick-day ratio is generally highest, with the reasons often being stress and depression.

Both CBI and Pfizer said that this issue must be addressed, with the aim of bringing public sector absenteeism down to the same level as that of the private sector.  If this can be done, they estimate that the U.K. economy could save as much as £5.5 billion in the next five or six years.