According to the 2017 Absence Management and Wellbeing Survey, conducted by Direct Health Solutions, employees in the private sector took an average of 9.5 days sick leave, while public sector workers took a considerably higher average of 11.4 days leave.
Some 40 per cent of organisations said they experienced an increase in workplace absences in 2017, while a third (33 per cent) said levels had remained steady.
The Australian newspaper reported that Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd defended higher rates of absenteeism in the public service by criticising business culture.
“With some areas of the private sector, there is a culture which is probably a bit too unforgiving on having absence because of illness; we don’t want to move to that type of culture but just to have one where discretionary leave is taken more responsibly and for legitimate purposes,” the Commissioner said.
“In some parts of the private sector, there is a very tough culture on this — you (hear) of people reticent to take leave when they probably should … that is not a culture I want to have.”
WSFM Sydney radio hosts Amanda Keller and Brendan Jones responded to the news by asking their listeners how they felt, and the vast majority of callers agreed that business leaders are too tough when it comes to sick leave.
One even claimed that a manager was so “nasty” about her calling in sick with whooping cough that she quit the retail job.
Direct Health Solutions estimated the cost of employee absence in Australia to be around $33 billion annually.
However, the flip side of this is the cost to employers of sick leave not being taken by legitimately ill workers.
A spokesperson for the Immunisation Coalition (formerly Influenza Specialist Group) told My Business that the flu alone accounts for an estimated 1.5 million sick days each year.
While prevention through immunisation is believed the to be the best method of reducing this figure, the best means of avoiding contagion in the workplace is by infected workers staying at home.
As well as spreading flu, the individual also runs the risk of developing complications by not staying at home and resting during the initial illness.
Another consideration is the poor image a business can suffer at the hands of customer-facing staff being visibly ill at work.