One in five employees in the UK have admitted that the last time they took a ‘sick day’ was actually for personal reasons rather than because they were ill.

Many people would not own up to feigning illness; suggesting the real number of sickies is much higher, said business leaders, who warned it was costing them billions of pounds a year.

In Britain, another one in eight workers took time off to look after another member of their family.

The level of sickies this year was bumped up by the World Cup, said researchers from Aon Consulting.

The study also showed that half of Britons would not take sickies if they were offered more flexible working hours or the right to ‘social days’.

The CBI says sick days cost the economy £2.5billion a year.

Quoted in the London’s Metro, researcher Peter Abelskamp said: ‘Employers would be well advised to tackle the issues of sickness and workplace absence head on, as these seriously impact efficiency and hit their balance sheets.’

The study covers 7,500 workers from ten countries in Europe where staff take a total of 800million days off work every year.

In Britain, workers are absent for more than 170million days. However, only half of them say their last day off was for a physical or mental illness.

One in five say they were off for a personal issue such as the break-up of a relationship or because they had to let a repairman into the home.

The figure is similar to Spain, Ireland and the Netherlands but way ahead of Norway, Belgium, Switzerland and Denmark, Germany and France .