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Employee absence in the private sector is at a record low, but remains 'stubbornly high' in public sector

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Although UK absenteeism in the private sector is at a record low, the gap between public and private sector absence levels is growing as public sector absence remains 'stubbornly high', according to the CIPD.

A survey by the CIPD of 600 employers, shows average absence in the private sector has fallen from 7.2 days per employee per year to 6.4 days since last year, while in the public sector averge absence is 9.7 days compared to 9.8 days in 2008.

This means the gap between public and private sector absence currently stands at 3.3 days per employee per year - up from 2.6 days in 2008.

Overall, average yearly absence per employee in the UK is 7.4 days, down from eight days last year. But this represents a loss of 185 million working days and an overall cost of 17.3 billion. The average cost of absence is £692 per employee per year.

But 21% of employers have noted staff attending work when they are ill and a fifth of preivate sector employers agee employee concerns over job security has had an effect on decreasing absence levels.

Ben Willmott, Senior Public Policy Adviser at the CIPD, said: "It appears the recession has contributed to a fall in the overall level of employee absence, with private sector absence levels at the lowest levels ever recorded by the CIPD absence management survey. It is disappointing that public sector absence levels remain so high.

"There is no simple explanation for the public/private absence gap, with a number of factors in play including differences in demographic profiles with a higher proportion of women and older workers in the public sector. The public sector also has a high proportion of challenging public-facing roles such as those involved in policing, nursing, teaching and social care.

"However there is also a fundamental difference in management culture and practice between the sectors. The public sector is more likely to provide leave for family circumstances, provide access to occupational health services, counselling services and physiotherapy. But they are less likely than their private sector counterparts to discipline or dismiss employees for absence-related reasons. As well as this public sector employers are also less likely to restrict pay to help manage absence, and continue to pay occupational sick pay for longer to those on long-term sick leave.

"Effective absence management involves finding a balance between providing support to help employees with health problems stay in and return to work and taking consistent and firm action against employees that try and take advantage of organisations' occupational sick pay schemes. Some public sector employers have not got this balance right."