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Employee sick days cost companies £29bn per year

SICKNESS ABSENCE is costing UK businesses almost £29bn a year, as workers take more than four times as many days off work due to sickness than their global peers, Financial Director’s sister title Workplace Savings & Benefits reports.

On average, UK workers miss 9.1 days of work due to sickness, nearly double the amount that workers in the US take at 4.9 days of sickness per year, four times more than their counterparts in Asia Pacific (2.2 days) and still higher than Western Europe (7.3 days), according to findings from PwC.

Sickness accounts for around 90% of UK companies’ absence bill, which also covers compassionate leave and industrial action.

While unscheduled absence days in the UK have dropped compared to two years ago – 9.8 days in 2013 in contrast to 10.1 days in 2011 – the number of these days that are attributed to illness has risen over that time from 8.7 days in 2011 to 9.1 days in 2013. In turn the associated cost of staff sickness has also risen, sick days now account for £28.8bn of the UK’s overall £31.1bn absence bill.

“Absence is still a significant drain on British businesses. At a time when companies are striving for growth it is vital they address this cost by looking for ways to improve employees’ health, morale and motivation. Allowing greater workplace flexibility could go a long way to helping break the sickness cycle,” explained PwC HR consulting leader Jon Andrews.

“Forward-looking companies will invest in health and wellbeing services to tackle the issue before absence starts to hit their bottom lines. This is particularly relevant for start-ups and SMEs, where the cost of absence can be particularly crippling.

“With the demographics of the workforce rapidly changing as many people are now having to work far longer before they retire, companies are likely to see a greater level of sickness if they don’t start addressing this issue now,” Andrews said.

Technology companies achieved the lowest level of sick days of any sector at 3.4 days, according to the research – three times lower than public sector workers’ at 11.1 days. Retail and leisure, and engineering and manufacturing workers were off an average of 9 days and 8.7 days respectively.

The best performing sectors have been able to reduce their absence levels since 2011, while the worst performing remained relatively static.

Andrews added: “The stark variation in absence levels among different sectors and across western Europe suggests employee engagement, workplace environment and culture can have a huge influence on the number of sick days employees take. Technology companies’ often lead the way in terms of innovation and this is likely to feed down into all aspects of their business, including how they motivate and engage staff and the level of workplace flexibility.”

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