The annual cost to employers has risen by more than a billion pounds

Workplace absence has fallen to its lowest level for at least 14 years, but the annual cost to employers has risen by more than a billion pounds, according to a survey by the Confederation of British Industry and PPP healthcare.

The number of working days lost fell by 16m, from 192m in 2000 to 176m in 2001. That is 7.1 days per employee or 3.1% of total working time, the lowest figures recorded since the survey began in 1987. However, the average cost of absence per employee rose to its highest level for five years. Projected across the whole workforce, the total cost of absence to British business rose from £10.7bn in 2000 to £11.8bn in 2001.

Susan Anderson, CBI Director of Human Resources Policy, commented: "Concerns about job security and better absence management led to a fall in days lost, but firms say costs increased. They are under greater competitive pressures and, with less slack in their operations, providing cover is likely to mean extra spending on overtime or temps."

Absence rates were lowest in organisations where senior managers take responsibility for managing absence. These organisations lose, on average, five days per employee per year, compared with 7.6 where it is left to line managers. Return to work interviews were the most effective absence management tool.