Staff absence levels drop to lowest in three years

Staff sickness absence has reached its lowest levels in three years, meaning employers gained on average one extra day of work per employee in 2009.

According to a sickness absence study of the manufacturing industry, released today by EEF, the manufacturers' organisation, and Unum, from 2007 to 2009 there has been a steady fall in sickness absence, with the average employee taking 5.6 days sickness in 2009 compare to 6.8 days in 2007 – a gain for employers of on average one extra day of work per employee during 2009.  

According to the report, 41% of companies saw a decrease in short-term sickness absence in 2009, a climb of 9% from 2008, while nearly a third (32%) of companies saw a decrease in long-term sickness absence over the past two years, up from 26% the year before.  On average, 44% of employees did not take a single day off work sick during 2009, continuing an improving trend since 2007; and this despite the swine flu pandemic.

Unum and EEF believe the reduction in employee sickness absence may be linked to the global recession and the pace of economic recovery in the UK.

Sayeed Khan, EEF chief medical adviser said: "The clear decline in absence levels could be a consequence of the recession and relatively slow recovery of the UK economy. Another possibility is that the recession, with its accompanying redundancies, has made employees more aware of the time they are taking off."

Michael O’Donnell, chief medical officer at Unum added: "Long-term sickness absence, where an employee has been off work for more than a month, has a substantial effect on UK industry as well as for the social welfare of the population. The cost of this is potentially much higher than short-term absence, due to the expense of replacement staff, agency fees and many other indirect costs associated with absence – all a major headache for employers."

The research reveals the top causes of short-term sickness absence as: ‘minor illness’, ‘back pain and other joint / muscular problems; the same as for the past three years.

For cases of long-term sickness absence, the main causes are surgery or medical investigations and tests, back problems, cancer and mental ill health, excluding stress; the same as for the past three years