Fears over Job Security Drive Down Private Sector Sickness Absence

According to one in five private sector employers, staff fears about job security have driven down sickness absence levels in their sector.

The annual Absence Management survey of more than 600 employers, conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), shows that sickness absence in the private sector has fallen from 7.2 days to 6.4 days per employee, per year.  However, absence in the public sector has remained almost unchanged - averaging 9.7 days compared to 9.8 days for the previous year.

This means that the overall level of workplace absence across all sectors of the economy now averages 7.4 days per employee, per year – a slight improvement on the 8 days recorded the previous year.  Nevertheless, it still represents a loss of 185 million working days which equates to an estimated overall cost to the UK economy of £17.3 billion.

The CIPD points out that closing the gap between levels of absence in the public and private sectors could reduce the total number of working days lost by around 20 million each year. Reducing public sector absence to the level now managed in private sector services would cut the annual cost of public sector absence from £4.5 billion to £3.8 billion – saving the taxpayer £0.7 billion per year.

Four out of ten employers surveyed said they were focusing more attention and taking active measures to reduce absence levels and costs as a result of the impact of recession.

But the survey also suggests that increased employee concerns about job security may be another reason to explain the fall in absence. This is not surprising given that the majority (56 per cent) of respondent organisations had made redundancies in the last 12 months and that four in ten employers use employee absence data as part of the criterion when selecting for redundancy.

Other key findings:

• The average cost of absence is £692 per employee per year

• The average cost of public sector absence is £784 per employee, compared to £666 for the private sector services and £754 for the manufacturing and production sector

• The main causes of short-term absence are minor illnesses such as colds and flu, stress and musculoskeletal conditions

• The main causes of long-term absence are acute medical conditions, stress and mental health conditions and musculoskeletal conditions and back pain

• Just over a fifth (21 per cent) of employers said they had noticed an increase in the proportion of people coming to work ill in the last 12 months

• A fifth of private sector employers agree that employee concerns over job security have had the effect of decreasing absence levels

• One in five respondents said there had been an increase in reported mental health problems such as anxiety and depression in the last 12 months

The CIPD’s survey was conducted before the onset of the swine flu pandemic.

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