• Rising sick bill ‘costs UK business £29bn a year’

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  • 15 Jul 2013
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Absence levels in Britain top global scale, finds study 

The annual cost of sickness absence has climbed to almost £29 billion for UK organisations, according to new figures from PwC.

British workers take more than four times as many sick days off work than some of their global counterparts, the analysis by the professionals services firm showed.

At an average of 9.1 days per year, UK workers reported double the amount of sickness absence as US staff (4.9 days) and quadruple that of workers in the Asia Pacific region (2.2 days). The average for Western Europe was 7.3 days.

PwC’s research showed that in UK companies, illness and its associated costs accounted for around 90 per cent (£28.8 billion) of the total absence bill (£31.1 billion). Other unexpected absences such as compassionate leave and industrial action made up the remainder. These figures compared to a sickness absence cost of £27.8 billion in 2011, out of an overall absenteeism bill of £32.1 billion. 

While UK employees were taking less unscheduled absence days overall than two years ago (9.8 days in 2013, compared to 10.1 days in 2011), the number of these days that were due to illness rose over the same period (9.1 days in 2013, up from 8.7 days in 2011). 

The survey of 2,500 firms also revealed that technology companies had the lowest level of sickness out of any sector, at 3.4 days.

This was three times lower than public sector workers (11.1 days). Retail and leisure, and engineering and manufacturing workers were not far behind, taking an average of 9 days and 8.7 days respectively.

“Absence is still a significant drain on British businesses,” explained Jon Andrews, HR consulting lead at PwC. “At a time when companies are striving for growth it is vital they address this cost by looking for ways to improve employees’ health, morale and motivation. Allowing greater workplace flexibility could go a long way to helping break the sickness cycle. 

“Forward-looking companies will invest in health and well-being services to tackle the issue before absence starts to hit their bottom lines,” he continued. “This is particularly relevant for start-ups and SMEs, where the cost of absence can be crippling.”

Meanwhile, separate absence figures released by the CBI today claimed that one in eight sick days were “non-genuine”, and a fifth of UK employers believed that staff “took sickies as an occasional perk”.

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  • Interesting that sickness absence is rising again and significant after many organisations in both the Private & Public Sector have tried so hard over the years to address it through the use of effective interventions and prior to the current adverse economic conditions.

    Could it be that the economic conditions are placing huge strains and stress on the workforce and organisations?

  • There is a ground swelling in forward thinking companies that this is now a real issue and one that is halting the economic recovery. The smart companies are taking action to remedy this by investing in their people. This has to be more than a tick box exercise and done correctly will give that said business a competitive edge.