The number of working days lost as a result of employee sickness has fallen again in 2011, by four per cent, according to new data published today in a quarterly labour force survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Last year 131 million working days were lost to sickness, down by 36 per cent from the peak in 2003, when 178 million days were lost.
It is perhaps unsurprising that during a time of recession, high unemployment and job insecurity the figures for workplace absence have continued to fall. Unemployment has risen by 170,000 in the past 12 months to reach 2.65 million.
Professor Cary Cooper, from the Lancaster University Management School, said: "People are too scared to take time off.
Even if they are ill, they are coming into work. It is called "sickness presenteeism".
"Do you think anybody wants to have a bad sickness absence record with the boss at the current time?"
Brendan Barber of the TUC said: "The biggest problem workplaces face is not absenteeism but "presenteeism" where workers come in when they are too ill."
The average number of days lost per individual worker is now 4.5 days a year, down from a peak of 7.2 in 1995. By 2007, the year before the economic downturn, the average number of days lost to sickness each year was 5.6.
The most common illnesses were coughs, colds and flu as well as back, neck and limb problems. The ONS said that “musculoskeletal problems” accounted for just over a quarter of all sick days.
This is often caused by posture and sitting in the same position for a long time doing the same type of job for years.
The ONS said that 27.5 million working days were lost as a result of minor illnesses, whilst 13.1 million days were lost to stress, depression and anxiety.”
The ONS found that public sector workers had more sick days than private sector workers and the self-employed and that employees’ from bigger workforces had higher levels of sickness than those from smaller firms.
Public sector workers lost an average of 2.6 per cent of their working hours to sickness, compared to 1.6 per cent for private sector workers. The ONS said this was partly due to public sector employees being guaranteed to receive payment for sick days, whereas many private sector workers are self-employed and are not paid if they do not work.
The report also indicates that public sector workers are paid more money for less hours. A state worker earns an average of £16.24, whilst a private sector worker earns just £14.11, a gap of £2.13 or 15 per cent.
Public sector employees work an average of 30 hours and 30 minutes, compared to private sector workers who work for 33 and 12 minutes, an extra half an hour a day for a five day working week.
Women and older workers had the most time off for sickness.
London workers had the least time off for sickness, with employees from the north-east and Wales, both areas more dependent on public sector jobs, having the most days absence for illness.
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