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Absence management - How sick is the public sector?


The TUC's findings on employee absence in the public sector may surprise you.

With employee absence levels actually going up rather than down in the past few years, it's easy to resort to stereotypes - the favourite is that it's all public-sector workers' fault, that their cosy, job-for-life, 9-5 existence breeds a culture of complacency (although perhaps not for much longer as new PM David Cameron prepares to sharpen his scythe). However, in March the TUC promised to tell the 'truth' about sickness absence, by revealing it's not all what you may think.

After sampling more than 2,000 employees, it found public-sector staff are much more likely than those in the private sector to struggle into work when they feel ill (41% in the past year compared with 36%), because of a greater sense of public duty. It found only 11% of public-sector workers had never braved coming in when they probably should have stayed at home. However, not even the TUC can argue with the absolute numbers. Workers in the NHS take more than 11 days off a year, while local government staff take an average of 9.6 - significantly higher than the average of 7.4 days across the board. Within local government, there is wide variation, with waste disposal staff taking 12.8 days off per year. In what will probably come as no surprise to women, the TUC finds more females struggle into work when they are ill than men.

But some stereotypes remain - while absence rates among teachers have steadily fallen (from 5.4 to 5 days' sickness a year in the latest figures), surely that's nothing more than we'd expect. They already get 25 weeks' holiday a year, don't they? .