Sickness absence levels show slow but sure decline

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Sick days are costing organisations nearly £750,000 a year, but the good news is the figure is decreasing, according to an XpertHR Survey.

Employees used an average of 6.4 days sick days in 2011, equivalent to 2.8% of working time. Of the 120 organisations that were able to give absence cost data to XpertHR, sickness absence cost employers an average of £618 per person – amounting to an £89 million pound collective cost.

The survey findings are based on feedback from 343 employers across a broad range of sectors and regions in the UK.

The survey also revealed a higher level of sickness absence in the public sector compared to private industry, which has been a widely acknowledged trend in most sickness absence surveys, including this one over recent years. The 2012 XpertHR survey shows a slight narrowing of the absence gap between these two broad sectors.

Last year, XpertHR reported that the median percentage of working time represented by absences in private-sector-services was 2.4% compared to 3.5% in the public sector –a 1.1 percentage point gap. A median of 2.3% of working time was lost to absence in private-sector-services in 2011 compared to 3.1% in the public sector, representing a 0.8 percentage point change.

Author of the Report Rachel Suff said: “Reducing sickness absence levels, particularly in the public sector, has been a key public policy imperative in the UK for some years. Figures show a slow but sure year-on-year decline in overall absence levels across all employers over the past five years, including the public sector; the difference is that the public sector’s drop has come from a higher starting point.”

Looking at absence levels across the economy as a whole, the median percentage of working time lost to absence five years ago (in 2007) was 3.2%, compared to 2.5% in 2011. Every broad sector (private-sector-services, manufacturing-and-production and the public sector) has experienced a similar downward trend in sickness absence levels over this five-year period.

On a regional basis, absence rates range from a median of 5.3 days’ absence per employee per year in 2011, in London, to 6.5 days in Wales – a difference of 1.2 days.

Although there is no clear reason for the variation in absence levels according to region, successive surveys have shown that London and the South East tend to experience slightly lower absence rates than the rest of the country. However, at a median of 5.5 days per employee per annum, this year three regions (West Midlands, Northern Ireland and Channel Islands/Isle of Man) all demonstrate an absence rate that is only marginally higher than London (5.3 days) and South East England (5.4 days).

Chart: Absence rates for all employers, % of working time per annum, 2007-2011
Calendar year Average Median
2011 2.8% 2.5%
2010 2.8% 2.8%
2009 3.3% 3.0%
2008 3.6% 3.1%
2007 3.6% 3.2%

Source: XpertHR absence rates survey 2012

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