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Leading article: Shy no longer

Working life

That the British are workshy, skive off and go sick whenever possible is a treasured part of our self-image, up there with other famous national traits as having a stiff upper lip and professing indifference to rain.

Innacurate and stereotypical as these images may be, it is still surprising to learn that the average British employee took fewer days off sick last year, 6.4 to be precise, than in any year since 1987. That is as far back as the Confederation of British Industry's research into the subject goes, so it may be even longer than 23 years.

What lies behind this silent revolution in the nation's working habits – this abandonment of tradition? The CBI figures are silent. A new generation of smiling bosses whom no one wants to let down by staying at home? The creation of enticing workplaces, full of pot plants, water features and chill-out areas? The cult of the "fulfilling" job may also have played its part in making the business of pulling "sickies" far less fashionable than it was.

Historically, these matters go in cycles. Victorian Britons were almost slaves to their bosses but their, and our, ancestors, before the Reformation, spent at least a quarter of the working year "off", celebrating saints days. The workshy Brit may be in retreat but let's not be too hasty. His or her day may come again.