Although the figures for absence have remained virtually unchanged, a quiet revolution has been taking place. For the first time in six years, the UK average for absence over a year has risen to seven days for every worker. Yet its causes and management have undergone a radical change.
While 89% of absences are short-term, long-term episodes account for 56% of all the days lost and up to 70% of costs.
Most disturbingly, every week approximately 3,000 people move from long-term sickness to ongoing incapacity benefit. Of the 2.7 million people now receiving incapacity benefit, only 30 people, just over 1%, rejoin the workforce every week.
While nearly two in five people do not take any absence each year, some jobs and sectors are significantly more prone. Managers are less than half as likely as manual workers to take time off (3.9% and 1.6% respectively) and those in the public or voluntary sector are five times more likely than those in IT (7.9 and 1.6%).
Different strategies for managing this problem include recording absences so that levels and patterns can be investigated.
For example, the Work Foundation found that 57% of employers do not cost absence, which suggests a lack of data.
The report also examined the causes of absence and management practices, both short- and long-term and their prevention.
"Absence has grown from a human resources to a business problem. The good news is that sensible management techniques can make an immediate and positive impact," the report said.
This was first published in August 2003