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CBI absenteeism survey

16 May 2001 - British employees averaged 7.8 days absence from the workplace in 2000 - amounting to a total of 192 million days or 3.4 per cent of total working time. This is equivalent to the working population of two counties - 861,000 people - taking a year off work. This is the main conclusion of the Confederation of British Industry's fifteenth annual absence survey Pulling Together, published in association with PPP healthcare.

The average cost of absence per employee is estimated at 434, costing British business a total of 10.7 billion when projected across the entire workforce.

According to the survey, employers believe that most absences are due to genuine sickness. But long-term physical illness is seen as the most significant cause for manual employees, while stress and recurring illness are cited as more common among non-manual employees. Other reasons for absence include home and family responsibilities and poor workplace morale.

Most absences are short-term (80 per cent) but the greatest impact comes from the other 20%. Long-term absence accounts for more than forty per cent of total working time lost due to absence each year.

Absenteeism varies widely between employers: the best average just 4.6 days per employee, while the worst lose an average of 10 days per employee. Low rates of absence are seen where senior managers are involved in absence procedures.

Susan Anderson, CBI Director of Human Resources Policy, said: "Absence rates are lower than they were ten years ago but it is worrying that there's such a big gap between the best and worst performing organisations. Our survey shows that the most effective approach is for an employer to tailor their HR policies to the actual causes of absence in their particular workforce."

Dudley Lusted, PPP healthcare's Director of Corporate Healthcare Development, said: "Too many companies are still failing to manage their people-risks properly. It's crazy to pay people not to work when the tools to safeguard their wellbeing and manage sickness absence are so well established."

In keeping with tradition, public sector workers take more days off (average 10.2 days) than people in the private sector (average 7.6). And small businesses continue to have the lowest rates of absenteeism: 5.9 days for firms with fewer than 50 workers. This compares with around 9 days in businesses with more than 500 employees.

Regional differences have narrowed in recent years but there is still a considerable variation. Taking manual employees, absence rates were highest in Greater London (12 days) and Northern Ireland (11 days). Compare these levels with the East Midlands (8 days) and South East England (7 days).


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