Intelligent People Take Less Sick Leave, New Study Suggests

Intelligent people take less sick leave, claims a new study providing a “clear” link between low intellectual ability and long-term work absence.

A study published on April 1 reveals a link between low intellectual ability in childhood and a greater likelihood of long-term adult sick leave in the workplace. Photo: PresseBox.de flickr/Flickr

According to the researchers, cognitive ability at a young age has a ”strong impact” on whether sickness stops people from working several decades later.

The scientists examined more than 23,000 people whose cognitive behaviour was measured in either 1946, 1958 or 1970.

As the Telegraph reports, in the 1946 group, 47 percent of those who were on long-term sick leave had been in the bottom quarter of childhood ability, compared to 13 percent who were in the highest category.

The results show that 41 percent of those off sick from the 1958 group were in the lowest quartile of ability, while 32 percent of the 1970 interviewees were also in this category.

The study, published in the journal BMJ Open, stated that over 2.5 million people receive health-related benefits in the UK, including Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance.

The researchers suggested that strategies to reduce long-term sick leave should involve education.  ”Our findings suggest that health is only one factor in understanding long-term sickness absence.”

“We suggest that education should form part of the policy response to long-term sickness absence: for future generations, equipping children with skills necessary for labour market flexibility may inoculate them from the risk of long-term sickness absence,” they wrote.

Low cognitive ability and/or educational attainment can possibly limit the ability to transfer skills. The study provides the example of a person with few skills who goes off sick from a labouring job having few options to find alternative employment.

The report, written by experts including Max Henderson of King’s College London, concluded: ”Long-term sick leave is a complex outcome with many risk factors beyond health. Cognitive abilities might impact on the way individuals are able to develop strategies to maintain their employment or rapidly find new employment when faced with a range of difficulties.”

According to the Sky News, the average worker has 10 unscheduled days off work per year and absenteeism costs the UK a staggering £32bn each year.

The data released by PricewaterhouseCoopers, show that Brits bunk off nearly twice if compared with workers in the US. Across the pond the average employee takes 5.5 days off per year in addition to their holiday allowance.

PwC’s experts supposed that the reason for this is in more flexible labour laws in the US and Asia. Richard Phelps, HR consulting partner at PwC, said: “For a variety of reasons, there seems to be a hunger among workers in US and Asia to go the extra mile.”

It was counted that with the average UK salary around £25,000, absenteeism is costing British businesses £32bn per year. Sickness accounts for around 80% of absence, which also covers jury service and compassionate leave.

Mr Phelps explained that the line between ‘sickie’ and ‘sickness’ can be blurred, and needs to be dealt with by the employer.

“With sickness accounting for the lion’s share of absence, the question for employers is what can be done to improve health, morale and motivation.”

He added: “You need clear policies in place to make it less appealing for people to take unwarranted leave, while protecting those people with genuine illness.”

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