Improvements in UK absence levels grind to a halt

EEF/Westfield study reveals mixed picture for employers

The long-term downward trend in UK employee absence rates looks to have plateaued, according to figures published today, and the government must now implement the recommendations of a recent review of sickness absence "as a matter of urgency".

Manufacturers’ organisation EEF said that its annual sickness report shows that falls in the country’s sickness absence rate have now flattened off.

The EEF/Westfield Health 2012 annual sickness absence report, which includes the UK’s largest private sector business survey of sickness absence, shows a continued year-on-year decline in short-term absence over the last five years, with one third of companies seeing a decrease in 2011. In addition, the number of employees having no sickness absence has again increased to 51% in 2011, up from 46% in 2010.

But while EEF said that this reflects the steps that employers have taken to address absence, Britain’s overall sickness absence rate remains unchanged from 2010 (2.2%), while the average working days lost to absence has shown a marginal increase from 5 days per employee to 5.1 days.

Of greater concern, EEF said, is the divergence between short and long-term absence where almost 40% of companies saw an increase in 2011, an increase of 5% on 2010 alone.

According to EEF, this was mainly down to a jump in absence due to stress, anxiety and depression which often result in longer periods off work.

EEF chief medical adviser Professor Sayeed Khan said that proposals outlined in the Sickness Absence Review carried out by Dame Carol Black and David Frost must be followed if the trend is to be reversed. Those proposals included the embedding of the fit note, improvements in the training of doctors and tax breaks for companies who invest in rehabilitation.

More from the survey is available at www.eef.org.uk.

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