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My life.

Byline: By Graeme Whitfield

Welcome to the middle of your four-day weekend, you bunch of idle slackers.

I assume that you did not go to work yesterday and are not particularly planning on turning in on Monday. After all, according to that august body the CBI, we are nation of skivers and malingerers who cost the country pounds 13bn a year.

My immediate thought this week when I heard that we had cost our employers so much money was "let's go for pounds 15bn next year!" But then I am a very silly boy at times and there is a serious issue at stake here.

Most of you will probably work with someone who takes lots of sickies and will be only too aware that it's pretty hard to stop people making up spurious excuses for not turning in. You might get suspicious when they say they have Dutch Elm Disease or get "the flu" when England are in the World Cup, but there's not much you can say.

And so it is with the CBI.

The pounds 13bn figure comes from extrapolating the answers on a questionnaire given by 400 employers. But as a nice man from the CBI explained, the only way to distinguish sickies from genuine absence is "an educated guess".

"Do you have figures for the amount of money employers save by people working unpaid overtime?" I asked him, as it seemed to be the other side of the coin to all this skiving.

"Well, that's not a business issue," he replied. "It's not something that costing employers."

"But it seems to be a bit unfair to paint us as a nation of shirkers when lots of people are actually working too hard."

"We didn't say that," he said. "That was how the media portrayed it."

"But your press release is titled 'Suspect short-term "sickies" lose 21 million days in 2006'!" I said.

Oh well. The CBI study actually contains lots of good sense, like pointing out that employers who offer rehabilitation and flexible working can lose less time to absence.

But it also has a fairly partial and unnecessary dig at trade unions, uses selective figures to perpetuate the myth that public sector workers are all constantly on the sick and then says firms should all get private health insurance. (The study is sponsored by a large provider of private health insurance, by the way.)

So maybe we're not such a bunch of slackers, after all. Perhaps those of us who are going into the office today, don't see enough of their families and work through their lunch hours to cover for those people who are off sick have been done a bit of a disservice.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 14, 2007
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