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Sick leave shows a drop

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The average employee took 6.4 days off sick last year, the lowest rate since 1987, a new survey has revealed.

The survey, carried out by the CBI, found that sick leave rates were down from the average of 6.7 days recorded in 2007 which was the last year to be studied.

The fall in absentee rates was accounted for by a small improvement in figures from the public sector.

In the public sector, employees still took more sick days, with an average of 8.3 days per year, which is 43 per cent higher than the private-sector figure of 5.8 days.

Even with a lower average rate of sick leave, the CBI estimated the economy lost 180 million days to time of work for illness, the equivalent of £16.8 billion.

So-called ‘sickies’ remain a problem, the CBI said. The senior HR staff surveyed at 241 public and private-sector organisations estimated that around 15 per cent, or 27 million sick days, weren’t genuine.

Long-term absence was also identified as a particular issue. Although it only represented 5 per cent of absences, the longer periods meant that it accounted for 20 per cent of lost days in the private sector and 36 per cent in the public sector.

Katja Hall, the CBI’s 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 per cent, the economy would see annual savings of just under £1.7 billion.”

Firms are increasingly using rehabilitation plans and support in which getting staff back to work sooner and productively are major objectives. The survey showed that 95 per cent of organisations had a formal absence policy – a rise of 10 per cent compared with 2007.

Asked what the government could do to help, 63 per cent of employers wanted to see better occupational health training for GPs and 56 per cent cited better working relationships between GPs and occupational health professionals.

Employers welcomed the introduction of the ‘fit note’ scheme, brought in to replace sick notes in April this year and designed to help ensure that GPs, employers and staff focus on what an employee can do, not what they can’t.

In the survey, 76 per cent of respondents said it would help people get back to work.