First the good news. According to the "Sickness Absence" survey of 330 firms, conducted by the EEF, or the UK's manufacturing association, the number of days taken off work through sickness is at a record low. The survey found that over the past two years overall levels of worker absence reached a record low of 2.1%, equal to 4.9 days per worker per year.
Now the bad news: while short-term absence is indeed at record low levels, long-term absence has increased, with almost two fifths of companies saying long term absence has increased in the last two years. Among the problems associated with long-term absence: mental health problems.
This increase comes despite more investment by employers in managing sickness absence and, placing employee health and well-being programmes on a par with other business investments. Two thirds of companies now have sickness absence programmes, while 68% of companies offer access to occupational health services for employees. Over a quarter of companies also offer employee assistance programmes, health checks and health cash plans.
The EEF's spin: "whilst this reflects to some extent the fact that short term absence is better managed and, therefore, long term absence occupies a higher proportion of overall levels, the survey highlights an increase in stress and mental health illnesses as a cause of long-term sickness absence."
Another take, of course, is that increasingly more workers are finding work avoidance loopholes, and just like the number of "disabled" workers in the US is hitting new record highs every month, so too English workers no longer bother with taking a day or two off, when they can just take a week, a month, or longer away from work.
Finally, the hilarious news. Since every organization these days has a clear and present agenda, the EEF being no exception, it was quick to scapegot the increase in long-term absence on what else - the same bogeyman that everyone in Europe now hates, one which despite constant pleas to crush it continues to be perpetually elusive: austerity.
According to the survey, stress and other mental health related disorders have shown the biggest increase in long term absence with just over half of companies reporting it as a cause, an increase of 7% in the last five years. A fifth of companies cited it as the most common cause, an increase of 4% in the last five years. This possibly reflects, for the first time, evidence of the effect on employees of the long period of recession and austerity.
Wait, so people are going crazy because the welfare state allows them to take increasingly longer paid time away from work - which by definition is against-austerity - and then blame it all on what otherwise would force them to work every day? Does not compute.
Or perhaps the reason increasingly more Brits, and Europeans, and everyone else, are losing their mind is because they look at new all time highs in government debt levels, continuing budget deficits, and then try to figure out just where this so-called austerity is hiding? Truly, this unprecedented propaganda paradox is enough to make even the most hardened workers insane.