Headlines: July 23rd, 2009

A sharp decline in employee absence in the private sector has seen the gap between public and private sector absence widen from 2.6 days per employee per year to 3.3 days.

The latest absence management survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development shows that while private sector absence has fallen from 7.2 days to 6.4 days per employee per year, public sector absence has remained stubbornly high, averaging 9.7 days compared to 9.8 days for the previous year.

Closing the gap between levels of absence in the public and private sectors could reduce the total number of working days lost by around 20 million each year. Reducing public sector absence to the level now managed in private sector services would cut the annual cost of public sector absence from £4.5 billion to £3.8 billion and save the taxpayer £0.7 billion per year.

The survey suggests increased employee concerns about job security may a reason to explain the fall in absence with 4 in 10 employers using employee absence data as part of the criterion when selecting for redundancy.

There is no simple explanation for the absence gap between public and private sectors but influencing factors include differences in demographic profiles with a higher proportion of women and older workers in the public sector. The public sector also has a high proportion of challenging public-facing roles such as those involved in policing, nursing, teaching and social care.