Concern over job security is possible cause of reduction in number of working days lost to illness, ONS report shows
A fall in the number of working days lost to sickness in 2011 is the latest sign British workers are increasingly concerned about job security.
About 131m working days were lost to sickness in 2011, a fall of 6m from 2010, according to data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The organisation said this equates to an average of four-and-a-half days off sick a year for each working adult. The figures compare with 178m days lost to sickness in 1993, when records began, when the average was more than seven days per employee.
The percentage of working hours lost due to sickness absence also fell between 2010 and 2011 from 1.9% to 1.8%, and was down from 2.8% in 1993.
The Work Foundation and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) both said the statistics indicate more British workers are going to work while ill – known as presenteeism – due to increased job insecurity while the country is in recession.
Work Foundation spokeswoman Ksenia Zheltoukhova said: “Sickness absence is in the spotlight because it is something management can measure, putting individual managers under pressure to reduce the level of absenteeism among staff – but it leads to increased presenteeism, especially during a recession.
“If you look at the reasons why workers are taking time off sick, stress has fallen down the list – people don’t want to say they are stressed because it makes them look weak. In the current economic situation, workers really don’t want to appear weak in case they lose their job, so they will come to work even when they shouldn’t.”
A 2010 report by the Work Foundation showed that more than 40% of employees are under pressure from managers and co-workers to come to work when ill. It also showed that employees struggling to make ends meet, who were unable to save and who were worried about debt, had a significantly higher number of sickness presence days than those without these problems.
Meanwhile, the Labour Force Survey found in November 2011 that there were 400,000 cases of stress in 2010/11 – significantly lower than the number seen in 2001/02 – leading to the loss of 10.8m working days.
Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said there was a direct link between sickness leave and the recession. “A fall in sickness absence runs in parallel to rising economic uncertainty and rising unemployment. If there are going to be redundancies, workers worry that sickness absence will be one of the criteria they will be judged on,” he said.
A 2011 CIPD survey found that more than a quarter (28%) of employers noticed an increase in the number of people coming to work ill in the last 12 months, and nearly two-fifths reported an increase in mental health problems such as anxiety and depression among employees. Half of organisations (52%) also told the CIPD they use employee absence records as part of their criteria when selecting for redundancy.
The ONS also said women had higher sickness absence rates than men in 2011, losing 2.3% of their hours compared with 1.5% for men. Older workers, meanwhile, are more likely to have increased sickness rates: for workers aged 16-34 about 1.5% of hours were lost to sickness in 2011 compared with 2.5% for workers aged 50-64.
Public sector workers also take more sick leave than the private sector, with 2.6% of hours lost to sickness compared with 1.6% for the private sector. But the ONS said there are differences in the types of jobs between the two sectors, and the public sector employs a higher proportion of women. It also said workers in London took fewer days off sick than those elsewhere in the country.