While public sector absence was 44% higher than in the private sector, one of the lowest rates in the whole survey was at a local authority.
Long-term absence of 20 days or more accounts for 43% of all working time lost, costing£5.8bn. In the public sector just over half of absence (52%) is long-term, while in the private sector this was over a third (38%).
The survey showed that companies who offer rehabilitation programmes and flexible working can help employees back to work and lose less time to absence.
The great majority of absences are genuine, but employers believe around 12% are suspect and involve staff 'pulling a sickie'. That means 21 million days were lost in 2006 at a cost to the economy£1.6bn.
Asked to cite the reasons behind fake illness claims, 70% of employers felt staff are inclined to create unauthorised long weekends by taking Mondays or Fridays off sick, while 68% said there is a link between sickies and holidays, and 39% said absence is linked to special events, such as major sporting tournaments.
Looking at all absences, the 2006 research shows an increase on 2005, when the average employee took 6.6 days off sick, and the total number of days lost was 164 million. In 2006 absence cost£537 per employee and accounted for 3.3 per cent of working time.
The best performing organisations lost only 2.7 days per employee, while the worst lost 12.
CBI director of human resources policy director Susan Anderson said:
'There is a culture of absenteeism in some workplace that must be addressed. The gap between organisations with the highest and lowest absences is over nine days, and clearly some are managing absence better than others.
'In particular, if the public sector could match average private sector absence levels, then the taxpayer would save£1.1bn a year - enough to build seven new general hospitals.
The most important factor that influences absence is organisational size. In 2006 employers with fewer than 50 staff had just four days of absence per employeee, but this doubled to eight days in organisations with over 5,000 employees.
Absence levels vary widely across the UK.
Colds, flu and other minor illness were identified by 99 per cent of respondents as one of the top five main causes of short-term sickness. Back pain was second most highly ranked.
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