By Marcus Leach
A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has revealed that on average UK employees take ten unscheduled days of absence each year, in comparison to five and a half by those in the US and four and a half by those in Asia.
With the number in western Europe reaching almost ten the UK has the worst rate of 'absence days' according to the report.
80 per cent of those days taken are accounted for by sick days, with the remainder made up of days off for jury service and compassionate leave.
According to PwC's report, that takes the average UK salary at £25,000, UK businesses are losing out on a staggering £32 billion a year.
HR consultancy partner Richard Phelps believes absenteeism was a 'malaise' for UK industry and that if short-term spells of leave are not dealt with appropriately they can quickly deteriorate into much longer, and more costly, spells.
“The line between ‘sickie’ and ‘sickness’ can be blurred, with disenchantment at work sometimes exacerbating medical conditions or preventing a speedy return," Phelps said.
"While sometimes absence from work is unavoidable, once people see colleagues frequently taking unscheduled leave, absence becomes less of a dilemma and more of a right. Breaking the cycle can be hard.”
Mr Phelps highlights the labour laws in the US, which are less rigid than in the UK, as a reason for lower figures there. Despite there being longer working hours in the US there is also a fear of facing being sacked, leading to less people taking unaccounted days off.
Many US workplaces also focus on boosting commitment levels, such as by providing gyms or access to councillors, Mr Phelps added.
The employers approach to such problems plays a significant role in absence levels, according to the report. In the UK the worst sector was the public sector, averaging 12.2 days a year, whilst technology, the UK's best sector, only had 7.6 days a year.
The banking sector was marginally behind technology with an average of 7.8 days, although the retail and leisure sector was second worst with 11.5 days on average.
“For some [finance] roles even a day’s unexpected leave can have a significant impact on results and reward. There simply isn’t the culture for absenteeism — come rain or shine, people get into work," Mr Phelps said.
Mr Phelps explained that the main cause of long-term sick leave was often a problem at work, rather than a medical condition.
“Until this is treated you’re not going to get the person affected back in their job,” he said.