Record number of staff spurn sick days

A record number of workers are taking no days off sick, but long-term absences are growing because of rising stress and back pain, according to a new workplace survey.

The proportion of employees taking no sick leave rose to 51% last year compared with 46% 12 months earlier, the annual survey carried out by manufacturers' organisation EEF and Westfield Health found. The improvement was driven by workers with non-manual jobs such as office staff, among whom zero absence has risen from 50% to 58%.

Nearly three-quarters of firms count 40% of their staff as taking no time off for illness, up from 58% in 2010. However, long-term absences are on the rise, with almost 40% of companies reporting an increase. "With our economy still suffering from weak growth, we need to pull every possible lever to improve our economic performance," said Professor Sayeed Khan, EEF's chief medical adviser. "This includes helping employees to return to health and work as soon as possible. We need a fresh approach from government to address deep-rooted problems such as stress and back pain."

A recent decline in the overall sickness absence rate has flattened off. Average working days lost to absence have nudged up slightly to 5.1 days per employee per year from five last time, and 6.7 in 2007.

"Encouragingly, this year's survey results show a decline in short-term absence, particularly among those companies which are being proactive in managing sickness absence and are implementing measures such as health insurance," Paul Shires, Westfield Health executive director said. "However, as the survey shows overall sickness absence has plateaued and stress-related absenteeism has grown, it is clear that more needs to be done to aid and assist employers with their healthcare needs."

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