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UK has half the rate of high staff sickness of Germany, research says


The fall was partly due to the UK not having strong employment protection and lower sick pay, the British Sociological Association’s conference on work, employment and society in Warwick heard today [Tuesday, 3 September 2013].

Dr Wen Wang, of the University of Wolverhampton Business School, told the conference that in 2004 around 17% of UK firms studied said they had high rates of staff sickness, which fell to 9% by 2009.

By contrast, 24% of firms studied in Germany said they had high staff sickness in 2009, up from 17% in 2004. In France the percentage fell from 29% in 2004 to 21% in 2009.

Dr Wang along with the University’s Professor Roger Seifert,  analysed statistics on 2,620 private-sector firms in the three countries with more than 10 employees, as recorded in the European Company Survey.

They found that the lower staff sickness in 2009 in the UK was statistically linked to factors including:

  • less overtime worked, with overtime earning extra pay rather than time off in lieu
  • more profit-sharing among staff
  • less variation in workload than in Germany and France
  • good working atmosphere

The higher staff sickness that developed in Germany by 2009 was statistically linked to factors including:

·         laws which made sacking or disciplining staff hard for employers

  • generous sick pay
  • high rates of staff working overtime. (In a quarter of German firms studied in 2009 all       of the workforce had worked some overtime, and overtime was usually rewarded     with time off in lieu and not more pay)
  • Increased workload variation (more than half of firms in Germany in 2009 had to cope with large changes in workload at short notice)

“Workplace absence through sickness was reported to cost British business £32 billion a year – our findings show that Germany and France suffer even bigger losses,” Dr Wang told the conference.

“We see that the proportion of companies reporting high staff sickness decreased in the UK from 2004 to 2009, turning it to the lowest rate of high staff sickness among the three large economies in Europe.

“Strong employment protection and generous sick pay was empirically found to contribute increased staff sickness in Germany and France. Employment protection is still much higher and sick pay is more generous in Germany and France.

“Our results also show that a friendly and supportive working environment can also reduce sickness, regardless of nationality.”

• Dr Wang and Professor Seifert analysed data from the European Company Survey for his study. In this a senior company manager at each company was asked if the company had a high rate of staff sickness and the response was recorded as ‘yes’ or ‘no’, without further statistical detail. The researchers excluded firms with more than 20% workforce working part-time.


For more information on the conference contact Tony Trueman at the British Sociological Association Tel: 07964 023392.

For more information on the University of Wolverhampton please contact James Allen in the Media Relations Office on 01902 322003


1. The British Sociological Association’s work, employment and society conference takes place from 3 - 5 September 2013 at the University of Warwick.

2. The British Sociological Association’s mission is to represent the intellectual and sociological interests of its members. It is a Company Limited by Guarantee. Registered in England and Wales. Company Number: 3890729. Registered Charity Number 1080235.

Date Issued: Tuesday 3 September 2013

For more information please contact the Media Relations Office on 01902 32 2736 or 01902 518647.

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