Belfast Telegraph

£29bn of sick days a bitter pill for UK to swallow

BY CLARE WEIR

Sickness absence is still giving business owners in Northern Ireland major headaches, according to a new report.

Absenteeism through sickness now costs UK business nearly £29bn a year, according to research from advisers PriceWaterhouseCooper.

In Northern Ireland, the cost of public sector sickness across the civil service, health and education sectors was £149m in 2010-11, according to the most recent Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) report.

PwC says workers in the UK currently take an average of 9.1 sick days a year, more than four times more than employees in Asia Pacific, nearly twice the 4.9 days of annual sickness taken by the average worker in the USA and well above the Western European average of 7.3 days.

The PwC analysis reveals that, while UK employees now take fewer unscheduled absence days than two years ago (9.8 days in 2013, compared to 10.1 days in 2011), the number of days taken due to illness has actually risen over that time from 8.7 days in 2011 to an average of 9.1 days in 2013.

That means the direct cost of workforce sickness has also risen, with sick days now accounting for 93% (£28.8bn) of the UK's overall £31.1bn absence bill.

Kevin MacAllister, PwC partner and NI private sector leader, said that as companies strive for growth and international competitiveness, it is vital they address this cost by seeking ways to improve employees' health, morale and motivation.

"With the demographics of the workforce changing and many people now working longer before retirement, companies could face and even greater level of sickness if they don't start addressing this issue now," he said.

"Anticipating the growing cost of sickness as a proportion of total absence and dealing with it effectively and sympathetically is the key to managing spiralling costs to UK business and to the economy."

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