Staff too scared for sickies?

One upside of the recession: it appears to be discouraging private sector staff from taking sick days.

by
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Private sector workers took fewer sick days last year than at any time in the last decade, according to the CIPD. With staff clearly keen to stay on the right side of their employer amid widespread redundancies, the average worker took 6.4 days off last year, compared to 7.2 days in 2007. By contrast the public sector figure remains ‘stubbornly high’ – though we suspect civil servants may be a lot more inclined to put in face-time this year, with cuts looming. But as we prepare for the possible ravages of swine flu, is this necessarily a good thing?

The CIPD’s latest Absence Management Survey found that the private sector’s efforts to police absenteeism appear to be having the desired effect – it’s now at its lowest level since the survey began in 2000. We suspect that at a time when bosses are thinking about who to cut, workers are keen to avoid the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ problem. So they’re more inclined to battle through the sniffles and drag themselves into the office (particularly since many employers now factor attendance into redundancy decisions). Unfortunately, absenteeism in the public sector remains reasonably steady at 9.7 days, only marginally down on last year’s figure of 9.8 days. It’ll be interesting to see whether this changes now civil servants no longer have the safest jobs in town.

The survey also reminds us of the financial penalty to the private sector when staff don’t turn up for work. The CIPD reckons it costs manufacturing firms about £754 per person per day, and service companies about £666 per day. Over the course of a year, that adds up to about £12.6bn in lost productivity. It’s a similar story in the public sector: at an average cost of £784 per employee per day, the public purse is losing out to the tune of £4.5bn per year. According to the CIPD, if it adopted the same policing tactics used in the private sector, it could save about £700m a year. That’d be quite handy at a time when the Government’s spending cupboard is bare.

So there’s clearly a big financial incentive for organisations to reduce unnecessary absenteeism. However, the only issue is whether it makes sense for people to feel compelled to come into the office if they are actually unwell. Particularly when there’s a possible pandemic looming on the horizon, you’d arguably be better off persuading anyone with symptoms to steer well clear of the office, so they don't spread it to everyone else. If you can get them to work from home instead, so much the better.


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