CIPD Absence Shock: Sickness 50% Higher in the Public Sector

Newly released figures in the 2015 CIPD Absence Management Report show a small increase in sickness absence among British workers, though at 6.9 days per worker on average (as opposed to 6.6 in 2014) they remain lower than levels reported in 2013.

However, the report showed a worrying absence trend in the public sector.   Statistics for staff employed in the public sector (including the NHS,  civil service, education, local and national government and police bodies) show that on average, incidences of sickness among public sector workers are now 50% higher than in their private sector counterparts, and as with previous years, the overall median cost of absence per employee is higher in the public sector.

Earlier this year, Mark Littlewood, director general at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “The public sector has a very bad track record of sickness and absence compared to the private sector.

“Getting to grips with it would save taxpayers a fortune, even when illnesses due to the nature of NHS work are taken into account.”

The CIPD report also highlighted that stress absence was one of the top 5 reasons for absence in the public sector, higher than in any other sector.   This comes on top of figures published by the Telegraph in August showing that stress absence among NHS staff has increased by 37% over the last three years.   When looking at the perceived causes of workplace stress, an overwhelming 37% of public sector respondents identified organisational change/ restructuring as the reason for the increase in their stress levels.  Increasing levels of stress in the public sector are surprising, given that the sector seems to be the most active in promoting and supporting employees’ mental health, and have deployed a wide range of initiatives to improve mental wellbeing.

Joy Gateley, Employment Law Advice Manager for Avensure said: “Absences cost organisations, even in the public sector, and although some absences are inevitable and unfortunate, it is important that employers seriously consider how they manage absences in the workplace, including absence policies, monitoring and prevention.

There are a number of effective methods for managing absences at work, including absence policies, monitoring and prevention. Once the employer begins to monitor absence – reasons, periods of absence, frequency etc. – it should build enough data to spot trends and common causes for absence, whether attributed to individuals or the collective workforce. Sustained absence monitoring will also allow the company to spot trends in absence that they can begin to alleviate through prevention schemes, policies and even shift or working periods.”

Absence management expert Adrian Lewis of Activ Absence said: ” I’m not able to speculate as to why public bodies consistently have a much higher rate of absence, I do however know that the taxpayer cannot afford our current sickness absence bill and when customers use a strategic absence management system instead of out of date paper forms and spreadsheets, we see an almost immediate reduction in sickness absence of 20-30%.  This is reduced even further when supported by occupational health involvement, return to work interviews, improving employee engagement (and thus morale) and undertaking regular policy reviews – wellness initiatives to tackle increased stress during periods of organisational change are admirable but only work as part of a wider strategic approach.   I cannot stress enough that high levels of sickness absence are preventable and can be addressed economically.”


Author: Editorial Team

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