A record 45% of workers took no sick days in 2010, and the average employee took five days off compared with 6.7 days in 2007, according to a survey.
The study said sickness absence showed a steady fall over the last three years and, although the state of the economy may have contributed, the trend began before the recession.
Muscular problems including back pain were still the main cause of short-term sickness absence last year, although stress and back pain problems fell, with two-thirds of firms saying they were achieving sickness absence targets.
More than 450 companies were surveyed by the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF) and Westfield Health.
A significant number of companies were paying for private medical treatment, which the EEF said was set to become a rising trend as the UK recovers from recession.
Early results on the introduction of a 'fit note' were mixed, with one in five firms saying it had helped them reduce sickness absence, but others complaining that workers were being signed off unnecessarily.