Unions urged bosses not to view sick leave as "bogus" today as new figures revealed the amount of time lost had fallen to less than 3 per cent.
Employees took an average of just over six days off sick last year, equivalent to 2.8 per cent of working time, compared with 3.6 per cent in 2007.
There were lower absence rates in London and the south-east - 5.3 days - while the highest figure, 6.5 days, was in Wales.
The study of 120 organisations by human resources firm XpertHR found higher levels of sickness absence in the public sector than in private firms.
A TUC spokesman welcomed the fall in illness but warned that workers in insecure jobs being unwilling to take time off may be behind part of the fall.
"Good employers allow their staff to recover and support them when they are off, rather than forcing them back while they are still ill. This negative attitude can prolong illness."
According to the Office for National Statistics workers in smaller private-sector businesses may feel under more pressure to turn up for work or make the time up lost through sickness absence.
The ONS also found that many workers in the private sector do not get paid for sickness absence.
Left Economics Advisory Panel co-ordinator Andrew Fisher said the data showed that workers were more likely to exercise their right to sick leave when they were better unionised.
"This is a large part of the reason why the public sector tends to have marginally higher sickness absence. And because the public sector employs a higher proportion of people with disabilities."
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