Stress Blamed for Public Sector Sick Leave Rates

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Organisational culture, stress and change programmes are blamed for sickness levels in the public sector.

The latest survey of employee absence by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that public sector workers take on average three-and-a-half more sick leave than those in the private sector.

Average absence levels in the public sector stand at 10.3 days per employee per year compared to 6.8 days in private services sector, according to the survey.

Ben Willmott, CIPD Employee Relations Adviser, believes there are a number of reasons behind high levels of employee absence in the public sector: "There are a high proportion of particularly challenging public facing roles in the public sector such as police, healthcare, teaching, and social services which contribute to higher than average levels of absence.

"Research shows that change is one of the biggest causes of stress and there has been a tremendous amount of change in the public sector with employees working within increasingly target-driven and performance managed environments. Employers must consult with staff before making changes and involve them as much as possible in order to help gain their trust and commitment."

The CIPD also found that public sector organisations are least likely out of all the sectors to use disciplinary procedures to manage unacceptable levels of absence, and are also least likely to restrict sick pay. Public sector employers provide occupational sick pay for the longest out of all the main sectors and are least likely to believe that absence is not genuine.

Only a quarter (28%) of public sector organisations take into account attendance records as part of performance measures for individuals' appraisals compared to almost half (48%) of private sector service organisations. However 40% of respondents believe that including employees' attendance records among performance measures for individuals' appraisals has a positive effect on reducing absence levels, with just 12% saying this has no effect.

Overall absence levels have fallen to 8.4 days per employee a year (3.7% of working time) down from 9.1 days for the previous 12 months (4% of working time). This is the lowest level of absence recorded by the CIPD since it began surveying absence levels in 2000.

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