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Small firm workers take fewer sick days - survey

Surprise! People take fewer sick days when there are fewer other employees to cover their work.

A NEW STUDY by the Small Firms Association (SFA) has reported that absenteeism at work fell last year – but that staff who worked in businesses with higher numbers of employees were more likely to claim sick days from work.

The SFA survey found that employees missed 3.9 million days at work last year – costing their employers about €563m in total across the twelve months of 2009, according to the Irish Independent.

This amount was down significantly on last year’s survey, which had found €793m in costs relating to absenteeism in 2008.

The survey also indicated, however, that businesses which had fewer than 50 employees were the least likely to have employees taking sick days: the average employee in such a firm took five sick days in 2009, it said.

This was just half of the number of sick days taken by employees at ‘big’ companies, who took a personal average of ten days off. The national average, it said, was eight days.

Western manufacturers the worst culprits

On average the manufacturing sector saw the highest level of absenteeism, with employees missing just under seven days each, compared to the retail sector where the average worker missed 4.7 days.

Employees in the west and north-west of the country were more likely to seek time off, missing 9.3 days a year, with staff in the mid-west missing just four days by comparison. Dublin employees missed an average of five days.

SFA director Avine McNally said that the €563m cost suggested by the survey was based on the average earnings lost by an absent employee, though the true cost could have been much higher given the requirement of many employers to find substitute workers or, in some cases, pay for medical treatment.

“The overall cost could be closer to €900m,” she said. “There is an increasing need for business to have an overall policy to deal with absenteeism. There are issues for both employers and employees.”

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