Tauranga employees are more likely to pull a "sickie" in a workplace with bad leadership, a local business leader says.

The comment follows the release of a Wellness in the Workplace report, which showed Kiwi workers took 4.5 sick days a year on average, with those in manual jobs and the public sector staying home the most.

The report put the cost of employee absences at $1.26billion a year.

The most common cause was illness, followed by caring for a sick family member, then non-work-related injury.


One in five employers also cited staff "seeing paid sick days as an entitlement" and suspected employees weren't really sick. But about half said genuinely sick employees would soldier on at work.

Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Max Mason said some employees abused the system by "throwing a sickie".

However, that was most common in workplaces lacking good leadership.

"If there is poor workplace morale and managers have a rigid attitude to rules, with low empathy to their people, there's less employee loyalty.

"In general, employers will grow loyalty and have more engaged staff by being family friendly and showing a bit of flexibility to staff needs outside the workplace."

Sick leave should be seen as a "back up", not an entitlement, he said.

Genuinely ill employees showing up to work was "misplaced loyalty" as they often ended up infecting their colleagues, Mr Mason said.

The study was done by BusinessNZ, Southern Cross and injury management provider Gallagher Bassett, and looked at 2012 data from 113 businesses and public sector entities, employing more than 97,000 workers.


It showed New Zealand workers were off sick less often than those in the UK, where the average was 6.5 days a year.

The median cost of absences for each employee was $837, which included absent workers' salaries, replacement costs and lost productivity.

BusinessNZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly said there was a cost to workers turning up sick, and those genuinely ill should feel supported to stay home.

However, employers could better manage leave for non-illness reasons.

"Rather than take a whole day, if the company says, 'I'll give you an hour off to take your kid to the dentist', what you'll find is the employees will be more satisfied and happy."

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said overall workers took little sick leave.

She also noted 56 per cent of employers had asked for a medical certificate after at least one day.

"It's outrageous that sick people can't just stay at home for a day in bed, that their employer sends them off to the doctor."

Earlier this year a Medical Council review into how medical certificates were issued sparked renewed debate around employee sick days.