According to the CBI/Pfizer Absence and Workplace Health Survey of 223 private sector companies, each employee took an average of 6.5 days off sick.
The rate of absence is marginally higher than in 2009, when employees averaged 6.4 sick days, the lowest rate since the survey began in 1987.
The £17 billion figure cited includes more than £2.7 billion from 30.4 million days of non-genuine sickness absence – so-called ‘sickies’.
The latest survey is the first since the launch of the fit note – the new medical certificate focused on what people can do rather than what they can’t, designed to aid returns to work and reduce costs related to absence.
Despite strong support for the initiative, employers have been disappointed by their experience so far; two thirds of small businesses that were surveyed say that it has not yet helped their rehabilitation policy, and 71 per cent are not confident that GPs were using the fit note differently from the old sick note.
CBI chief policy director Katja Hall says, ‘There’s been no let up in the cost of absence to the UK economy, which runs into billions of pounds a year. Although many organisations have been successful in bringing down levels of absence, the gap between the best and worst has widened.
‘The substantial costs of absence to the economy put a premium on managing longer-term absence well. The fit note is a great initiative, which could play an important role in helping people back to work and stopping them slide into long-term absence. But employers are far from convinced that the scheme is working properly and don’t think GPs are getting the necessary training,’ Hall adds.