Sickness absence down

The number of days taken off sick has fallen again, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.

The number of days taken off sick has fallen again, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.

It shows that 131 million days were lost due to sickness absences in the UK in 2011 – with an average of 4.5 days taken off a year, down from 178 million days in 1993.

The number of days lost through sickness absences remained constant through the 1990s until 2003 and has fallen since then, says the ONS. Over the same period, the percentage of people having a spell of sickness and hence the percentage of working hours lost has been falling. The reason the number of days lost remained constant between 1993 and 2003, when the percentage of hours lost were falling over this period, was because there were more people entering employment during this time.

The most common reason given for sickness in 2011 was minor illnesses such as coughs, colds and flu. This type of illness tends to have short durations and the greatest number of days lost were actually due to musculoskeletal problems. This accounted for just over a quarter of all days lost or 34.4 million days. Around 27.5 million days were lost due to minor illnesses and 13.1 million days were lost to stress, depression and anxiety.

Women have consistently higher sickness absence rates than men but both sexes have seen a fall over the past 20 years, says the ONS. Men have gone from losing around 2.5 per cent of their hours due to sickness in 1993 to around 1.5 per cent in 2011. Over the same period women have seen a reduction from 3.3 per cent to 2.3 per cent.

The percentage of hours lost to sickness in the private sector is lower than in the public sector, 1.6 per cent and 2.6 per cent respectively, due in part to the higher number of women in the public sector, says the ONS.

Self-employed people, at 1.2 per cent of working hours lost, took less sickness than employees in 2011.

Workers in organisations with more than 500 employees had the highest percentage of working hours lost in 2011, at 2.3 per cent. Those working in firms sized 25 to 49 and 50 to 499 lost a similar percentage of hours (2.1 and 2.0 per cent respectively) and the smallest firms had the lowest percentage of hours lost at 1.5 per cent.

Workers in London had the lowest percentage of hours lost to sickness, at 1.3 per cent. The highest percentage lost was in the North East and Wales, both at 2.5 per cent.

Commenting on the figures, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: "Workers are taking less time off sick than ever. The biggest problem workplaces face is not absenteeism but ‘presenteeism’ where workers come in when they are too ill.

"Presenteeism can multiply problems by making someone ill for longer and spreading germs around the workplace.

"Today’s figures also show that the biggest causes of long term sickness absence are musculoskeletal disorders and stress. Both of these are often as a result of a person’s work.

"Employers need to look at their working practices and see whether they can be changed to prevent ill-health, rather than try to blame workers for falling sick, which serves no good to anyone."

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