UK sickness absence rates are the second lowest in Europe according to new research, belying fears that absenteeism is prevalent in the UK.

A survey by HR consultancy Mercer found that UK employees took an average of 5.5 days off work a year – significantly below the European average of 7.4.

The Pan-European Health and Benefits Report surveyed nearly 800 companies across 24 European countries.
Responses showed that only Turkey, where workers were absent for an average of 4.6 days, had a lower absence rate than the UK.

Bulgaria, with 22 days, topped the list, followed by Portugal (11.9 days) and the Czech Republic (10.8).

A similar study in the US found an average absence rate of 5.1 days per year. Last year a study by the CBI and AXA found an average absence rate of 6.7 days, which was estimated to cost the UK £13.2 billion annually.

Of the 172 million days lost to absence last year, 12 per cent were estimated to be non-genuine "sickies", costing the economy about £1.6 billion.

Mercer’s research added that while most countries can provide data on the number of days employees are absent, only two-fifths (42 per cent) say they can identify the cause of employee absence.

Musculoskeletal disorders such as back pain were cited as the most common reasons for sick leave.

Steve Clements, principal in Mercer’s health and benefit business, said: “Absence management remains haphazard at best. Targeted absence management policies and procedures are by no means universally applied, and even the ability to quickly and accurately measure absence remains fairly poor.”