Private enterprise employees are away from their work less than public servants, having an average absence level per employee of 4.5 days compared to state employees at 6.6 days.

Last year, New Zealanders took 6.1 million days of work absences, costing $1.3 billion.

These are the findings of Wellness in the Workplace, a joint study by New Zealand's largest health insurer, Southern Cross Health Society, BusinessNZ and specialist injury management provider, Gallagher Bassett.

"In addition, median costs per absent employee in the public sector averaged 110 per cent more than in the private sector. Manual employees take an average of five days, compared to 3.5 days for non-manual. Absence costs vary by size of organisation and sector. SMEs average fewer than 4 days per year, larger enterprises average well over that number," the survey found.


Peter Tynan, Southern Cross chief executive, encouraged policy makers and employers look more closely at the impact of absenteeism .

"Now that the true cost of absenteeism has been quantified we have a broad indicator of the cost savings that could be achieved if employers can reduce the extent and duration of employee absences," he says.

"While non-work related illness and injury is by far the most widespread driver of employee absence, followed by caring for a family member. What the results tell us is that employers need to identify what lies behind absences and therefore consider what other support it may be appropriate to offer their workers to improve attendance," says Tynan.