The survey by the CBI, and sponsored by BUPA and MCG Consulting Group, estimates that 187 million working days were lost due to sickness absence in 1996. This works out to an average of 8.4 working days taken off on sick-leave by every employee, which represents 3.7 per cent of total working time in 1996 lost due to sickness - up from 7.8 days or 3.4 per cent of working time in 1994.
The number of days taken off by full-time non-manual staff increased from 6.1 to 7.9 days a year between 1994 and 1996. Absence rates among full-time manual workers are still higher than that for non-manual staff, but have not increased from 9.7 days a year since 1994. On average part-time workers took-off 8 days a year in 1996, which represents 3.8 per cent of part-timers working time.
The survey shows that the majority of time taken-off on sick leave is due to illness, 98 per cent of organisations said that most sickness absence was genuine. Taking time-off for family responsibilities was the second most significant reason for absence.
Sickness rates in the public sector continue to be higher than those in the private sector. In 1996 public sector workers took-off an average of 2.9 more days than their private sector counterparts, with public sector employees taking-off an average of 10.2 days a year, compared with 7.3 days in the private sector.
In the private sector sickness absence was lowest in the oil and mining (3.3 days lost for each employee), construction (4.2 days), and hotels and leisure sectors (4.6 days), and highest for employees in the food and drink industry (7.9 days), chemicals (7.8 days), and utilities (7.7 days).
David Costain, BUPA's assistant medical director, said:
'We are not surprised by the results of this survey. We work with a number of companies on workplace health programmes and these findings confirm BUPA's experience that very few of them have a comprehensive strategy for health. Companies need to improve their understanding of the cost implications of sickness absence and start to set themselves achievable targets for workplace health. I hope this study will prompt employers to start to take this issue seriously.'
Derek Burn, of MCG Consulting Group, said: 'Employees are too often considered to be an expendable resource. The increase in absenteeism reported among non-manual staff often arises from low morale and motivation, largely caused by uncertainty over job security and lack of investment in staff development. More organisations and businesses should view their staff as valuable assets. In organisations where the workforce is highly motivated, absenteeism can be as low as 1 or 2 per cent, and some more enlightened employers are starting to recognise the value of the knowledge economy which views people and the skills they have as an asset requiring investment and forming an important part of the capital of the business.'
On a regional basis sickness absence for full-time manual employees was lowest among firms in the South (6.5 days lost for each employee), South East (8.5 days), and Wales (8.8 days), and highest among firms in Northern Ireland (15.7 days), Greater London (13.8 days), and the North West (12.6 days).
For full-time non-manual workers absence was lowest in the North (4.0 days lost for each employee), South (6.2 days), and East Anglia (7.6 days), and highest in the South West (11.0 days), North West (9.5 days), and South East, Yorkshire and Humberside, and East Midlands (9.3 days).
The survey covered 691 organisations with a combined workforce of over 1.5 million - almost 7 per cent of the total workforce. It covered both public and private sectors, and organisations from all sizes, sectors and regions of the UK.
-- Managing Absence is available from CBI Publications Sales, Centre Point, 103 New Oxford Street, London, WC1A 1DU, tel: 0171-395 8035. Priced at£10 for CBI members,£20 for non-members.