Around one in eight civil servants had at least one absence spell lasting an average of almost three months in 2016/17, new figures have revealed.
Findings by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) show that the amount of absence due to sickness in the Civil Service is continuing to rise.
The main reason for absence was anxiety, stress, depression, or other psychiatric illnesses
The average worker took 12.4 days off last year - an increase from 11.7 days in the previous year and the highest it has been in the last five years.
Those 12.4 days lost represented 5.6% of the available working days in 2016/17 and in salary terms equal an estimated £32.7million of lost production.
The level of absence within departments varied from 7.9 days for the Executive Office to 15.3 days for the Department of Justice (DoJ).
DoJ was, however, the only department to record lower absence levels this year compared to last.
The report found that while just under half (49.5%) of staff had no recorded absence, around one in eight had at least one long-term absence spell lasting an average of nearly three months.
This was the highest level of long-term absence observed in the last five years, and accounted for more than three quarters of all working days lost.
The main reason for absence was anxiety, stress, depression, or other psychiatric illnesses, which accounted for the greatest proportion of working days lost (35.2%) during 2016/2017.
One third of the working days lost in this illness category were recorded as work-related stress.
The absence level for females (14.7 days) remained higher than that for males (10.4 days), with over half of this difference being due to “gender-specific conditions”, according to the report.
It also found that staff who had been in post for under two years had a much lower level of sickness absence (3.0 days) than staff who had been employed for two years or more (12.6 days).
The report stated that around three quarters of the staff employed for under two years would have been on probationary terms and conditions, which would include the more stringent management of sickness absence.