SICK days cost the British economy nearly £15 billion a year and workers are faking up to one in eight of them, business leaders have warned.
Another study suggested the cost of sick days closer to £29bn a year and that British workers took twice as many sick days as those in the United States.
A survey, commissioned by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), found that overall, absences incurred an annual cost to the economy of £14.92bn.
And about one in eight sick days taken last year were not genuine, the research claims, prompting a leading industry body to warn there should be “no room for complacency”.
The CBI stressed such a bill was “a major burden at a time when businesses need to be investing for growth”.
Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said although the trend was encouraging, the cost of absenteeism was “enormous”.
The Absence and Workplace Health Survey, published today, found employers estimated about 12 per cent of total absences were not genuine. The trend, the CBI said, came at a cost of £1.7bn a year.
Almost a quarter of employers said they believed staff regarded taking sick days as an entitlement equivalent to annual leave, while a similar proportion viewed the personal problems of staff – such as relationship difficulties or problems with alcohol and drugs – as the major causes for absences.
The survey, first carried out in 1987 and regarded as the most authoritative of its kind, found the average absence rate was 5.3 days in 2012, down from 6.5 days in 2010, an improvement which helped save businesses in £3bn.
Absence rates in both the public and private sector were down to 6.9 days last year from 8.1 in 2010, and 4.9 days in 2012 from 5.9 in 2010.
But Neil Carberry, the CBI’s director of employment and skills, said employers should be doing more to tackle the issue.
He said: “There is no room for complacency. Clearly, when staff are sick, they should not be in work, but there’s a lot more employers can do to tackle absence at a time when growth is fragile.
“The cost of non-genuine sick days is high and it is worrying that more than one in five employers think staff take paid absence as an occasional perk.”
Ms Cameron said: “The cost to both public and private sectors of continued absence is enormous – funding which could be better utilised to support public services and enable businesses to reinvest for growth.”
The CBI survey, carried out in conjunction with Pfizer, canvassed 153 public and private sector organisations, employing 850,000 workers. It is also based on figures from the Office of National Statistics.
The other study, by Price- waterhouseCoopers claims the cost to UK businesses of sick days is nearly £29bn a year. It also says British workers take an average of 9.1 sick days, nearly double the staff absence rate in the US.
Jon Andrews, human resources consulting leader at PwC, said: “Absence is still a significant drain on British businesses.”
A nation’s health
5.3 days’ absence per employee in 2012, down from 6.5 days in 2010
£14.9bn The overall cost to economy
12% of absences were estimated to be not genuine
23% of bosses think staff regard sick days as an entitlement, equivalent to annual leave
54% of employers cite non-work related stress, anxiety and depression as a cause of long-term absence for non-manual staff – 42 per cent for manual workers