20 million days lost each year due to non-genuine absence

Barely a month seems to go by without a report emerging to say something or other is costing British business £billions. Yesterday it reported that sickness and absence is costing British industry £13bn as the result of 164 million sick days.

Further, the CBI claims around 13 per cent of the 164 million "lost" days are not genuine - 21 million, in other words. The CBI believes this type of absence can be attributed to a "culture of absence" and the best ways to manage such absence is through "waiting a period of days before paying sick pay, offering bonuses for good attendance and providing early access to medical care through private medical insurance."

In my opinion, how you view the situation says a lot about how you will go about trying to resolve it. For me unauthorised absence is directly attributable to conflict and alienation, i.e. work can be so demanding that a day off sick is seen by the worker as a way in which they get back at an employer who does not appreciate their efforts. I accept that some workers may sense conflict different than others and that some may take time off on a whim, yet I don't believe this is the majority of cases.

If we compare unauthorised absence to the main and most recognised index of conflict - the strike - the number of days lost amounts to far less than a million per year for more than a decade. What is more, the number of days lost per year due to strikes has only risen above 20 million in three of the last 40 or so years (even then these figure are distorted by large and typically public sector strikes). Making such a comparison may be quite crude, yet it says a lot about British management and how workers are treated across all industries.

And what is being hailed as the resolution for conflict - withholding pay and bribing people to come to work? It's time to see unauthorised absence for what it really is - the result of poor management.

Make your own mind up on absence by viewing Sickness leave levels 'dropping' (BBC News: Business), the CBI perspective at Cost of UK workplace absence tops £13bn - new CBI survey, and the TUC perspective at TUC reaction to CBI absence survey.

Visit Absence minded: absence and labour turnover 2006 if you want to see the actual report and have £40 to spare.

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