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Fake illnesses cost the UK economy over £1 bln a year

STAFF who take a 'sickie' are costing the British economy £1.6 billion ($3.15 billion) each year, according to a new report by the CBI.

The most popular days for employees to take a dubious sick day is a Monday or a Friday while research found a link between 'sickies' and established holidays and sporting events. The popularity of 'sickies' is responsible for the rise in the average number of days staff call in sick each year. The figure for 2006 was seven, which showed a rise of half a day over the figure for 2005. The CBI said a total of 175 million working days are being lost each year through sick days, at a total cost of £13.4 billion. Susan Anderson, the CBI's director of human resources policy, said some people believed they had a right to use sickies for a long weekend or an extended holiday. She complained that unauthorized absence placed unfair pressure on colleagues and lost employers and taxpayers well over £1 billion. „Everybody gets sick and employers understand that most absence is genuine. „It is in no-one's interest if staff come to work when they are not well. But there is a culture of absenteeism in some workplaces that must be addressed,” she said.

The CBI surveyed 400 private firms and public-sector organizations and found that employers believed around 12 per cent of absence involved staff pulling a „sickie” at a cost to the economy of £1.6 billion. Managers said they suspected workers faked an illness to take a Monday or Friday off work and many employers said there was a link between „sickies” and holidays and sporting events. The average number of days off sick per employee ranged from fewer than three to more than 12 a year, with the public sector having the highest average absence at nine days per worker, an increase of half a day on 2005.

The CBI said its findings showed that, despite government efforts to cut down the number of days taken off sick, public-sector absence was 44% higher than in private companies. Manual workers took more time off than other employees, while companies employing fewer staff reported lower rates of absence than larger organizations. The main causes of short-term sickness included colds, flu and other minor illnesses. Stress and depression were the most significant causes of long-term absence. Long-term absence of at least 20 days accounted for 43% of all working time lost.

Insurance firm Axa, which helped with the research, said the health service structure was „unhelpful” because workers had to fit in with doctors' hours for medical appointments. Last night, Andrew Murray, a spokesman for the Transport and General Workers' Union, said: „Employers would be better off if they examined why employees were going off sick. In many cases it is the result of poor management that leads to stress and sickness.” Cary Cooper, professor of organizational psychology and health at Lancaster University management school, said: „People are taking more sick leave because they are over-worked, micro-managed, stressed and fearful for their jobs. „They, in turn, are being micro-managed by people in the same position. Employers should be asking: why do staff not want to come in to work?” (