Is absenteeism a malaise for British business?

3 May

A survey undertaken on behalf of PricewaterhouseCoopers paints a very gloomy picture concerning the cost and harm done by “unscheduled absence”.  The survey reveals that UK workers, and their EU counterparts, have an average of 10 days unscheduled absence from work each year compared to 5.5 days and 4.5 days taken by workers in the US and Asia-Pacific countries.

The press has weighed in with headlines including, “Pulling sickies costing UK £32bn per year”. The survey also highlights significantly different levels of absence in the public and private sectors – with workers in the public sector averaging over 12 days each. What the survey does not reveal is the many millions of workers who never take time off and soldier on through illness.

According to the latest ONS labour market statistics there are over 29 million full and part time workers in the UK of whom nearly three quarters are full time.  Grossing up the PwC survey results produces a figure of some 250 million days lost each year in the UK due to ‘unscheduled absence’.  According to a PwC spokesperson “absenteeism is a malaise for British business” with “sickness accounting for the lion’s share of absence.”

The PwC survey not surprisingly does little to explain this phenomena or enlighten us as to how the underlying causes need to be addressed. The reality is that it is not only business that suffers but workers too in terms of lost earnings and damage to their employment prospects. There are also the workers who have to pick up the pieces and up their work rate to cover their absent colleagues. The reality is that the issue is far more complex than the headlines portray.



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