In Brief

Absence rates halve - is the day of the sickie over?

Number of people off work reduced by 50% in two decades

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Absence rates among UK workers have halved over the past two decades, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

The figures show that sickness absence rates among employees who were otherwise healthy fell to 1.1% last year, down from 2.2% in 1997.

Brits took 141.4 million days off work last year because of sickness or injury, equivalent to 4.4 days per worker, down from 7.2 per worker in the mid-1990s.

The Times says this could mark the end of the “sickie”, which it defines as “a trick pulled for years by committed slackers: at the first hint of a sniffle, phone the boss, put on a croaky voice and get back under the duvet”.

It also cites a generational dimension to this, pointing out that “despite well-worn tropes about snowflake millennials, experts said that the workforce was more committed to getting into the office since they joined its ranks”.

However, the Daily Mail sees things differently. It reports a “spike in the number of sick days taken by workers last year”, noting that the 141.4 million working days lost in the UK due to sickness and injury in 2018 was an increase of almost ten million sick days on 2017.

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Although it agrees that “over the longer term, workers appear to have either become more stoic - or become less prone to illness or injury”, it says last year’s increase in sick days is “a blow to businesses and the economy”.

However, Personnel Today notes that the average number of sick days per employee increased “only marginally” from 4.1 days in 2017 to 4.4 in 2018.

Paul Avis, marketing director at Canada Life Group Insurance, also warned of the dangers of presenteeism, when people come into work even when they are ill due to fears of losing their job.

“Presenteeism is entrenched in our society, costing us up to £26bn a year, and the explosion of workplace technology means the need to be ‘always on’ can have serious repercussions on the health and productivity of UK employees,” he said.

The most common reasons for taking time off work were a cough, cold or minor ailment (27%), back pain and similar problems (19.7%) and an accident or food poisoning (13.7%).

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