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Large workplaces struggle with sickies

Excessive absences often coincide with poor performance, high turnover rates and low organisational commitment.

Excessive absences often coincide with poor performance, high turnover rates and low organisational commitment.

Parts of the federal bureaucracy are struggling to rein in the number of sickies staff take.

Three of the worst offenders - the Tax Office, the Health Department and the Veterans' Affairs Department - have consistently topped the public service's absence rates over the past five years.

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The median unscheduled leave rate for Australian Public Service agencies in 2011-12 was 11.1 days, the same as the previous year but up from 9.4 days in 2006-07.

Unscheduled leave includes sick, carer's and compensation leave, as well as unauthorised absences.

This year's State of the Service Report noted that, in general, staff in smaller agencies took fewer days off, while those in larger workplaces took more.

The report also found a link between the number of days an employee was absent due to sickness and how engaged they were with their job and their colleagues, though ''this relationship was only minor''.

Among large workplaces (those with 1000 or more staff), those with the highest median unscheduled leave rate were the Tax Office (15.5 days), Health and Agriculture (15.2 each), Veterans' Affairs (15) and Human Services (14.9).

The agencies whose workers took the least days off were Foreign Affairs (8.3), the Bureau of Meteorology (8.6), AusAID (9), Environment (9.3) and the Treasury (9.7).

The Public Service Commission says attending work when genuinely ill raises health and safety concerns for the sick employee and others.

''On the other hand, high rates of absence are costly and impact on individuals, business units and the organisation as a whole,'' it says.

''Excessive absences often coincide with poor performance, high turnover rates and low organisational commitment.''

The State of the Service Report says government agencies tried many strategies to reduce unscheduled leave, including pay incentives and coaching for managers. However, it said methods that worked ''well in one workplace may not work as effectively elsewhere''.

The Veterans' Affairs Department, which has had a particularly high absence rate over the past five years, used its latest wage agreement to cap the number of sick days staff can take without evidence, such as a medical certificate.

23 comments

  • The APS is full of no idea, bullyboy managers. As soon as they address that the sick leave will drop....

    Commenter
    Bean
    Location
    Beanville
    Date and time
    November 30, 2012, 7:15AM
    • Spot on Bean. Most management are useless, bullying twits. I've seen much the same in the private world too though. Banks are the worst. Larger = more management = more stress and less productivity.

      Commenter
      Andy
      Location
      Melb
      Date and time
      November 30, 2012, 7:31AM
      • I can think of one way to reduce the size of the APS....

        Commenter
        evanism
        Date and time
        November 30, 2012, 10:18AM
    • Statistics. How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways. First, the headline is misleading. A 'sickie' is a fake 'sick' day. These stats appear to be primarily about sick leave taken legally, under enterprise agreement leave entitlements.
      Second, it is difficult to get in to a doctor (and expensive) in Canberra, every time you have a disgusting cold, but no one wants you in with one. Only a handful of public servants are SES with buckets of money.
      Third, I would like to know if the increasing median age of staff has been factored into these stats (obviously, older persons might have more ailments, but seem to work like trojans on their return).
      Fourth, it is obvious that staff are more able to actually stay at home when sick , as they should, if they work in a larger agency. More like Buckleys in a smaller one. It would be disingenuous to draw the conclusion that smaller agency stats are what should be aimed for. It would also be disingenuous to compare these stats with private sector organisations who have crap leave entitlements.
      Finally, perhaps people are needing more 'mental health days' because they no longer get flex and their Department totally screws them over in relation to Time Off In Lieu (I am looking at you Attorney-General's Department)?

      Commenter
      Mardi
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      November 30, 2012, 7:42AM
      • LOL, I went for a job at Health many years ago. As I was leaving, the tea trolley rolled past and the workers walked up. At first I thought it was something to do with the lighting. Then, I realised they really were all jaundiced yellow-skinned. Made me think of the line from "Yes Minister" where it was remarked the Education Minister was illiterate.

        Commenter
        YS
        Date and time
        November 30, 2012, 7:42AM
        • Wow, that was a long time ago, wasn't it? The tea trolley's gone, along with the vending machines, and every lunchtime you'll see workers heading off for a run or training at the gym.

          Commenter
          Pea
          Date and time
          November 30, 2012, 11:26AM
      • If my work colleague is sick then I don't want them conming into an open office environment and spreading their germs.

        Commenter
        Another Grumpyoldfart
        Date and time
        November 30, 2012, 8:10AM
        • I'd write something but I'm sick. Joke Joyce. I am a recently retired teacher and sick leave has become a problem. The job demands now for teachers are extreme and I agree that work place bullying is a major problem. So much power has now been placed in the hands of principals that some have begun to think they can get away with anything. I worked in a school where four teachers received workers compensation pay outs because of bullying. Did anything happen to her? Of course not. In spite of the fact that her bullying of staff cost the Department thousands of dollars she wasn't held accountable. Principals appear to be a protected species. I had two years unused sick leave when I retired which I got nothing for. Taking sick leave is a coping mechanism for many. The problem in teaching is that there is a huge shortage of relief teachers and classes often have to be split. Teachers working conditions and job security have changed dramatically for the worse over the last few years. Things will be worse still next year as all principals have autonomy. Recently we were losing fifty percent of teachers within their first five years due to stress etc. those who think teachers have a cushy job and have three months holiday a year are clueless. Teachers get four weeks annual leave, the rest of the school holidays are often used for professional development which is compulsory in the ACT and planning.

          Commenter
          Pericles Olthwaite
          Location
          Canberra
          Date and time
          November 30, 2012, 8:22AM
          • Good Lord. Look at which departments have the most and look at their executive.

            Then look at those with the least, and look at their executive.

            Perhaps a problem there ?

            Commenter
            Surprised?
            Date and time
            November 30, 2012, 8:32AM
            • When you understand that 'unscheduled leave' also includes time off for elective surgery and caring for children or other people, it shines a slightly different light on the figures. Not all 'unscheduled leave' is truly unscheduled. And not all 'sick days' are 'sickies', they can include caring for kids.

              Besides, if people are sick they shouldn't be at work spreading germs around and making everyone else sick. That only leads to more days off for everyone.

              Commenter
              Lawyerbird
              Location
              a better place
              Date and time
              November 30, 2012, 8:39AM

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