The figures, from a new survey by the Confederation of British Industry, also showed that people working in the public sector each took off two days more than employees of private firms, with 197 million working days lost in 1997. The statistics do not include paid or public holidays.
Stress played only a small part in the problem, according to the CBI. Most commonly it was minor illnesses that kept people away from work, though it may be argued that these could be stress-related.
The people who spent most time off sick worked in the media and broadcasting, but high absenteeism was also found in occupations ranging from local government and manufacturing to hotels and restaurants. The lowest levels were in professional services, retailing and hi-tech industries.
Serious ill-health, then family responsibilities, personal problems and "high work pressure" were the main reasons given for missing days.
John Cridland, the CBI's director of human resources, said: "The huge cost of absence continues to be a cause for concern to British business. The key to cutting this cost is for management to play an increasingly active role in controlling absence. More flexible working arrangements can also help employees strike a balance between working and home life and contribute to reducing absenteeism."
The survey also identified regional differences in absenteeism. For manual workers, absence rates were highest in the North-West and Greater London and lowest in the South-East and the North. For non-manual workers, the lowest absence rates were in the East and West Midlands, while the highest rates were in the North-West, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
t The Government was warned yesterday that the economy was "hours from recession" as leaders of more than a million workers and employers formed a highly unusual alliance to publicise the plight of manufacturing.
Roger Lyons, leader of the Manufacturing, Science, Finance union, said last night that half a million jobs would be lost if the Bank of England continued to pursue its anti-inflationary policy.
His partner in the alliance, Ken Jackson, leader of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical union said: "The last time a government pursued a high interest rate and high pound policy it destroyed 40 per cent of British industry.''
The alliance seeks to raise the profile and status of manufacturing, to persuade the Government of its importance and to ensure that industry's competitiveness is taken into account during economic decision-making.
It has won the support of the Engineering Employer's Federation. David Yeandle, head of employment affairs at the employer's organisation, said that success on all the fronts named was "critically important".Reuse content