Small investments in employee engagement could also help lower the country's £13.4bn sickness absence bill Reuters

Small investments in employee engagement for low wage, low skilled workers could see a further £49bn contributed to the UK economy and help reduce sickness absence.

According to think-tank the Work Foundation, a 10% increase in funding for strategies to improve employee engagement, such as participation in business development and career progression, could increase company profits by £2,700 ($4,409, €3,249) per employee, per year.

"We know that underemployment has increased by one million since the start of the downturn, and the labour market for low wage, low skilled work is likely to continue growing," said Professor Stephen Bevan, director for the centre for workforce effectiveness at the Work Foundation.

He added: "Contact centre work especially has one of the highest labour turnover rates in the UK, and sick leave for this sector alone costs the UK economy £626m per year.

"These roles often have standardised work methods and lack of development opportunities. Many workers who have moved into this sector do not view their employment as a career option.

"Creating a career culture in this sector, by implementing training and development or shared leadership for problem solving, could have a real impact on productivity."

The think-tank said its suggestion comes after recent studies showed that 80% of the 587,000 new jobs created in the UK are primarily in low wage work and the UK is less productive than other OECD countries such as Germany, France, the USA and Spain.

In addition, the absenteeism rate in the UK currently costs £13.4bn a year to the UK economy.

The Work Foundation said recent studies show that disengaged employees are almost three times more likely to call in sick to work (taking 6.19 days off work per year, as compared to 2.96 for engaged employees).

Disengaged employees are also four times more likely to leave their organisations than engaged employees.

This can be a particular problem for workers who have moved down the labour market into low wage, low skilled jobs and are unable to make the best use of their skills, according to the Work Foundation.