Falls in employee sickness levels stall

The long term downward trend in workplace sickness absence is stalling, according to a report, fuelling concerns that the Government should be doing more to reduce the cost of sickness to employers, taxpayers and the economy.

The report by employers' group EEF found that although short term absence in the workplace has declined year on year over the last five years, overall sickness absence plateaued in 2011 and has remained unchanged since 2010 at 2.2 per cent.

According to the annual report - the largest private sector business survey of sickness absence - the average number of working days lost to absence through illness has marginally increased from 5 days per employee to 5.1 days.

It also indicated a large jump in short and long term absence in the last couple of years, with 40 per cent of companies witnessing an increase in staff absence last year, compared to 5 per cent in 2010; mainly due to long periods of absence resulting from stress, anxiety and depression.

Sayeed Khan, EEF's chief medical advisor, said: "With our economy still suffering from weak growth we need to pull every possible lever to improve our economic performance."

He warned the Government's current plans to tackle workplace sickness absence had been 'exhausted' and that it now needs a 'fresh approach' to address the problem. Absence from stress and back pain was noted as a priority.

According to the Department for Work and Pensions, 11 million employees take sick leave each year, with 30,000 going on to claim health related benefits. This is estimated to cost the taxpayer £13 billion a year.

The EEF is now calling for the Government to implement its own recommendations made in its independent Frost/Black review in September 2011; including the introduction of an electronic 'fit note', increased training of GPs to offer sickness rehabilitation, and more to support companies who invest in rehabilitation.