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Call centre workers take more sick days than anyone else in the UK. No wonder we spend so long on hold...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Customer service operators (including call centre staff) are more likely to call in sick than any other profession, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics. Its latest Economic and Labour Market Review found that nearly one in 20 had taken at least one day off in the week prior to the survey – twice as many as the national average. We wonder if that’s anything to do with the fact that these jobs don’t tend to be very well-paid or fulfilling? 

Sick leave is a serious business for UK plc, particularly at the moment. According to the ONS, 5.8m working days were lost to absence last year – which the CBI reckons cost the economy nearly £20bn. At a time when output is sliding across the board, that’s less than ideal. And since sick leave is often correlated to stress levels, there’s a good chance that it could get a lot worse in the coming year…

With a sickness absence rate of 4.8%, customer service staff comfortably topped the list – ahead of textiles workers on 4.3% and admin staff at 3.9%. And it’s easy to see why. Simply Switch entrepreneur Karen Darby, who knows a bit about call centres, has been telling the papers that the figure is a reflection of the kind of people who work there: ‘They are notoriously underpaid, and if you pay peanuts…’. It also tends to be a much more transitory workforce – understandably, staff don’t see fending off irate callers as a job for life.

On the flip side, the most industrious workers were transport professionals – train drivers, air traffic controllers and pilots – with an absence rate of just 0.8%, closely followed by legal professionals at 1.0%, and printing folk at 1.1%. So either these people have much hardier constitutions than the feckless call centre types, or perhaps they’re much more scared of a tongue-lashing if they call in sick.

In other shocking news, the report also revealed that public sector workers are 22% more likely to be absent than their private sector counterparts (presumably this doesn’t equate to ‘spend 22% less time in the office’, or we might wonder whether this is purely down to the marvels of flexi-time). Women were also more likely to take days off than men, as were younger workers compared to older workers, and large business staff compared to small business staff.

So just be grateful you’re not running a small government call centre populated entirely by young women. You’d be lucky if anyone bothered coming to work at all.


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