Gap widens between private and public-sector absence

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The gap between public and private-sector absence rates has reached a record high, according to the new CBI and AXA Absence Survey.

It reveals that private-sector absence rates have dropped from an average of 6.3 days per employee in 2006, to 5.8 days last year. But public-sector absence levels stood still at 9 days. The combined absence rates resulted in a loss of £13.2 billion to UK plc last year.

Of the 172 million days lost to absence last year, employers believe that 12% of them were non-genuine, costing the economy £1.6 billion due to lost productivity and the extra expense of using temporary workers or paying overtime to counter the problem.

In the public sector, highest absence levels were found in the health/social care services (12.6 days). Education saw lower levels of 7.5 days. It is thought that £1.4 billion could have been saved if public-sector organisations matched the private-sector average. The report also found that organisations that recognised trade unions experienced three days more absence per employee than those that do not.

Long-term absence (20 days or more) accounted for 40% of all time lost, costing £5.3 billion. To tackle the issue, more than two thirds of employers want the Government to prioritise the introduction of capability-focused medical certificates – so-called ‘fit notes’.

"A fresh, proactive approach to managing long-term absence could help stem the flow onto incapacity benefit and help employers to retain skilled employees,” says Susan Anderson, director of HR policy at the CBI. “But we really have to question if there is a medical explanation for the higher levels of absence in the public sector. Low morale, poor management and a culture of absence are at least partly to blame.”