Great Britain’s economy lost 190 million working days to absence in 2010, with each employee taking an average of 6.5 days off sick, according to the latest CBI/Pfizer Absence and Workplace Health Survey.
Despite the introduction of the new “fit note” in 2010, the rate of absence last year was marginally higher than in 2009, when employees averaged 6.4 sick days, the lowest rate since the survey began in 1987. The 190 million days cost employers £17bn, including over £2.7bn from 30.4 million days of non-genuine sickness absence – so-called “sickies”. This does not include the other indirect costs of absence, like lower customer service and lost productivity.
This year’s survey is the first since the launch of the fit note – the new medical certificate focused on what people can do rather than what they can’t, designed to aid returns to work and reduce absence costs. Despite strong support for the initiative, employers have been disappointed by their experience so far: 66% of firms said that it had not yet helped their rehabilitation policy, and 71% were not confident that GPs were using the fit note differently from the old sick note.
Katja Hall, CBI Chief Policy Director, noted, “There’s been no let up in the cost of absence to the UK economy, which runs into billions of pounds a year. Although many organizations have been successful in bringing down levels of absence, the gap between the best and worst has widened.
“The substantial costs of absence to the economy put a premium on managing longer-term absence well. The fit note is a great initiative, which could play an important role in helping people back to work and stopping them slide into long-term absence. But employers are far from convinced that the scheme is working properly and don’t think GPs are getting the necessary training.
“The launch of the electronic fit note should be an ideal opportunity for the Department of Work and Pensions to extend the reach of its training program and address GPs’ engagement. There can be no room for complacency in addressing the so-called sick note culture.”
On the cost of “sickies”, Hall added, “Sadly, more days were lost to non-genuine absence than in 2009 and the cost of these bogus sick days is over £2.7bn a year. Sickies are unfair on colleagues and damage employers’ competitiveness at a critical point in the recovery.”
Employees in the public sector took more sick days than those in the private sector, an average of 8.1 days a year compared with 5.9 days. This represents an improvement on last year’s average of 8.3 days and a marked improvement since 2007’s average of 9 days. Far more absence in the public sector is long-term than in the private sector, and reducing this will be key to reaching private sector levels.
The CBI estimates that if the public sector could reach private sector absence levels, it would save the taxpayer around £5bn by 2015-16. The cost of absence is much higher in the public sector – a median of £1040 compared with £710 in the private sector, or a difference of 46%.
Author Robert Elliott, executive vice president, Amaxx Risks Solutions, Inc. has worked successfully for 20 years with many industries to reduce Workers Compensation costs, including airlines, healthcare, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality and manufacturing. See www.LowerWC.com for more information. Contact:Info@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com or 860-553-6604.
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