UK employees are world leaders at claiming sick leave, taking more than four times as many days off work than their global colleagues, according to new research by PwC.
The global professional services firm complied data from 2,500 companies across the world, and found that UK workers took an average of 9.1 days off sick per year. This was nearly double the 4.9 days U.S. workers took off, and four times as much as their counterparts in Asia-Pacific (2.2 days).
PwC (previously PricewaterhouseCoopers) calculated that sick days cost U.K. business nearly £29 billion ($43.8 billion) a year.
"UK companies are still far behind their global counterparts in minimizing the impact of sick days on their businesses. It is worrying that UK workers continue to take considerably more sick days than any other global workers," Jon Andrews, HR consulting partner at PwC, said in the report.
Andrews attributed the variance in global sick leave to differing levels of domestic labor market regulation.
According to the Center for American Progress, around 38 percent of US workers, or almost 40 million, receive no paid sick leave.
"The combination of more flexible labor laws and a cap on the number of paid sick days in the US and Asia goes some way to explain their lower levels of absence. For workers in the US and Asia, there is a sense that there is more at stake if they take unscheduled time off work," Andrews said.
The 9.1 sick days per year taken by UK workers also exceeded the 7.3 days of average sick leave taken by workers in the rest of Western Europe. Andrews said this could be attributable to variations in employee engagement, workplace environment and culture. He pointed out that best performing sectors tended to have lower rates of sick leave. The tech sector in the UK, for example, had the lowest rate of sick days off per year at just 3.4.
"Technology companies often lead the way in terms of innovation and this is likely to feed down into all aspects of their business, including how they motivate and engage staff and the level of workplace flexibility," said Andrews.
In another report out on Monday, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) estimated that around 12 percent of UK sickness absence was fraudulent.
"A serious concern to employers is the perception among some employees that taking days of paid 'sickness' is an entitlement, the equivalent of an addition to annual leave," said Hannah Murphy, a policy adviser on employment and health and safety at the CBI.
According to Murphy, over a fifth of British employers cite this sense of "entitlement" as one of the three main causes of workplace absence.
"These figures are worryingly high, adding to business costs and imperilling the provision of sick pay arrangements for those employees who are genuinely unwell," she said.
Andrews warned that the problem of sickness absence was likely to worsen in the UK, due to a combination of aging population and aging workforce and because of the rise in the minimum claiming age for the state pension.
"With the demographics of the workforce rapidly changing, as many people are now having to work far longer before they retire, companies are likely to see a greater level of sickness if they don't start addressing this issue now," he said.