The number of days taken off work through sickness is at a record low, says industry body the EEF.
The survey of 330 firms over the past two years showed overall levels of absence reached a record low of 2.1%, equal to 4.9 days per worker per year.
However, employers reported a rise in workers with mental health problems.
The EEF statement said this "possibly reflects, for the first time, evidence of the effect on employees of the long period of recession and austerity".
Although short-term absences have fallen, long-term illnesses have risen.
It also says the government's flagship "fit note" programme is failing to do what it is designed to do - to get people back to work.
The EEF says manufacturers are increasingly investing in absence management and paying for treatment.
Almost two fifths of companies say long term absence has increased in the last two years.
The EEF says this reflects to some extent the fact that short term absence is better managed.
Professor Sayeed Khan, chief medical adviser at the EEF, said: "Driving down absence rates, helping more employees return to work earlier and, encouraging their wellbeing is critical for our economy.
"But, despite employers increasing investment in managing sickness absence and, providing their employees with more health related benefits, the improvement in overall absence rates has more or less now plateaued."