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Drop in sick leave

Coping with the time that employees take off sick can be a major issue, especially for smaller employers. So it might come as good news to learn that the average amount of sick leave in the private sector appears to be on a downward trend.

The Health Sickness Absence survey 2011, carried out by the EEF, the manufacturing employers’ group, found that from 2007 to 2010 there has been a steady fall in sickness absence. In 2007, the average employee took 6.7 days in sick leave. In 2010, that figure was down to 5 days. Perhaps more significantly, a record 45 per cent of all employees among those firms involved in the poll didn’t go on sick leave at all last year.

The EEF conceded that the pressures of the economic downturn may have played a part in reducing sick leave but went on to point out that the move towards less sickness absence actually began before the recession. The study also looked at the impact of the new ‘fit note’ regime. Fit notes allow GPs to indicate the kind of work of which an employee is capable rather than the blanket ‘no work’ of the old sick notes. The outcome appeared to be mixed.

One in five respondents said that the introduction of fit notes had helped them reduce absence, while 28 per cent said it has aided return to work discussions. However, worries persisted that employees were still being signed off work unnecessarily. Only 17 per cent of firms judged that fit notes have speeded the return to work of employees.

Professor Sayeed Khan, the EEF’s chief medical adviser, commented: “The continued downward trend in sickness absence is welcome recognition of efforts by companies and government to get people back to work.”