Employees who take extended periods of sick leave are more likely to die early, according to a new study by researchers at University College London.

They found that workers who have been off work sick for longer than seven consecutive days have a 66 per cent higher risk of suffering an early death.

Those whose absence stems from psychiatric problems such as depression are twice as likely to die from cancer as their colleagues.

According to the researchers, this could be that people suffering from such problems are less likely to seek help from their doctor.

Lead researcher Jenny Head said the findings of the study could help to identify those people who are more likely to develop serious health problems in the future.

A recent survey by AXA PPP healthcare revealed that almost three-quarters of Brits have gone to work feeling ill when they could have legitimately stayed at home.

An AXA spokesperson suggested employers should focus on reducing long-term sickness absence rather than putting pressure on workers taking time off for minor illness.