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Workers taking less sick leave during recession

31st July, 2012

Recently published figures indicate that the British working population is taking less time off work due to sickness. The Work Foundation and Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development have suggested that British workers are not taking sick leave due to feelings of increased job insecurity while the country is in recession.

According to data published by the Office for National Statistics, about 131 million working days were lost to sickness in 2011. This is 6 million less than in 2010. Once these statistics are translated it is equivalent to an average of 4 ½ days off sick per year for each working adult. This is compared with 178 million days lost to sickness in 1993, when records began, when the average was more than 7 days per employee. The data also shows that women are more likely than men to be off sick as are public rather than private sector workers. Workers in Wales and the North East are also more likely to take sick leave than those in London; the average sickness rate was 2.5% of total working hours compared to 1.3% for Londoners.

These figures may be linked to employees fearing they will be the first to lose their job if they have taken time off for being ill. Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, believes there is a direct link between the decrease in sickness absence and the recession, “a fall in sickness absence runs in parallel to rising economic uncertainty and rising unemployment. If there are going to be redundancies, workers worry that sickness absence will be one of the criteria they will be judged on”.

This data serves as a stark reminder for employers to ensure that they manage the sick leave of their employees properly. Research carried out by the Chartered Management Institute showed that 43% of workers felt they could not take sick leave and so were instead attending work feeling under the weather- known as “presenteeism”. Although some employees may fear that being absent could affect their employment status in the future, attending work whilst sick can have just as negative an effect on business and the economy. Employers should ensure they communicate effectively with employees about the need to take sick leave when they are ill. Hopefully doing so will safeguard the health of employees during the recession and beyond.

For further advice or information on how to manage the sick leave of your employees please contact Helen Watson on 01244 405565 or send an email to [email protected].


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