Research shows the amount of working time lost through sickness absences fell to 2.8% during 2011

Employers have been congratulated on their approach to managing sickness absence after figures showed that the amount of working time taken off by staff recently dropped below 3%.

On average, employees were absent from work through illness for just over six days in 2011, which was the equivalent of 2.8% of working time and down from the 3.6% figure recorded in 2007.

On a regional level, absence rates in London and the South East were lower than average - at 5.3 days - while Wales had the highest rate with 6.5 days.

The research from information firm XpertHR polled 120 organisations and found that there were higher levels of sickness absence among those in public sector jobs than in private firms.

XpertHR's Rachel Suff, who authored the report, said: "Reducing sickness absence levels, particularly in the public sector, has been a key public policy imperative in the UK for some years.

"Figures show a slow but sure year-on-year decline in overall absence levels across all employers over the past five years, including the public sector. The difference is that the public sector's drop has come from a higher starting point."

A TUC spokesman said: "The average number of days lost to workplace ill-health has been falling for over a decade as a result of employers better managing sickness absence and increased presenteeism, which has been made worse by rising job insecurity as a result of the recession.

"It is important that employers do not treat every instance of sickness absence as avoidable and potentially bogus.

"Good employers allow their staff to recover and support them when they are off, rather than forcing them back while they are still ill. This negative attitude can prolong illness, spread diseases and cause stress throughout the workplace."

A separate study found that NHS employees took an average of 15 days of sick leave last year. But the Health and Social Care Information Centre also said the rate of sickness absence has come down.

It found that NHS workers, not including GPs and practice staff, took around 15.95 million days off sick between 2010 and 2011, down from 16.75 million in the previous year.

Copyright Press Association 2012