Gap between absence in the public and private sector widens

The gap between public and private sector absence has increased from 2.6 days per employee per year to 3.3 days, according to research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

The CIPD’s Absence Management Survey of more than 600 employers shows that while private sector absence has fallen from 7.2 days to 6.4 days per employee per year, public sector absence has remained stubbornly high, averaging 9.7 days compared to 9.8 days for the previous year.

The overall level of workplace absence across all sectors of the economy now averages 7.4 days per employee per year. While this is an improvement on the eight days recorded a year earlier the figure nonetheless represents a loss of 185 million working days at an overall cost to the UK economy of £17.3 billion.

According to the CIPD closing the gap between levels of absence in the public and private sectors could reduce the total number of working days lost by around 20 million each year. Reducing public sector absence to the level now managed in private sector services would cut the annual cost of public sector absence from £4.5 billion to £3.8 billion – saving the taxpayer £0.7 billion per year.

That levels of general absence have gone down overall may be partly explained by active measures on the part of employers to tackle absence during tougher economic times, with four in 10 saying that they have recently increased their focus on reducing absence levels and costs as a result of the impact of recession.

The survey suggests increased employee concerns about job security may be another reason to explain the fall in absence. This is not surprising given that the majority (56%) of respondent organisations have made redundancies in the last 12 months and that four in 10 employers use employee absence data as part of the criterion when selecting for redundancy.

Ben Willmott, senior public policy adviser at the CIPD, says: “It appears that the recession has contributed to a fall in the overall level of employee absence, with private sector absence levels at the lowest levels ever recorded by the CIPD absence management survey. It is disappointing that public sector absence levels remain so high.”