UK sick days are on the rise

UK employers are having to contend with a rise in staff sickness. Recent research by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that UK staff took an average of 7.8 sick days in the past year. That’s an increase of 2 whole days from pre-pandemic levels. This was no small survey. The CIPD researched absence rates in over 900 organisations that represented 6.5 million employees.

Sick days UK – The causes

According to the CIPD, Covid, stress and the cost-of-living crisis all played a significant part in driving sick days to a decade high. Over 300 organisations stated that Covid was a significant cause of sickness. Short term absences were frequently caused by minor illnesses, musculoskeletal injuries and mental ill health. The latter two were also cited as frequent reasons for long term absences.

UK sick days

While working from home can be a great option for many, there are downsides. Staff working from home can suffer from a lack of social interaction. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a bit of a natter with a work colleague? Those living alone and working alone can easily feel ‘cut-off’. Regular, social interaction is incredibly important. Employers need to factor this into flexible working practices.

There may also be an issue with how the employee works from home. Does the employee have a suitable desk and chair to work at? There has been a rise in people suffering from neck and back pain, so for many home workers it appears that the answer could well be a resounding no.

UK sick days – Public vs Private sector

As a rule of thumb, the bigger the organisation the higher the rate of absence. The public sector has many front-line roles. Analysis from the Nuffield Trust brings into sharp focus the problem of sickness in the NHS. In 2022, 27 million days were lost to sickness. The rise can be attributed to the aftereffects of Covid, anxiety, burnout and stress. It’s a vicious circle. With less staff shouldering a higher burden, more staff suffer and take time off (or leave the sector entirely). The days lost to sickness in the NHS in 2022 were equivalent to 74,500 full time workers.

It’s a similar story in the education sector. In the 2021-22 academic year over two thirds of teachers took sickness absence. This was up from just over 54% in the pre-pandemic academic year of 2018-19. The average number of sick days also increased to 9.3 days (from 7.5 days in 2018-19). That’s more than 3.2 million working days*.

Public sector sick days are currently around double those of the private sector.

Prevention is better than cure

While the CIPD survey highlighted that most companies offered sick pay, only around half had strategies to improve the wellbeing of their staff. That’s a lot of companies with millions of employees who don’t have access to workplace initiatives that can support workers and help prevent problems from escalating. It is something that Blossom HR can help with.

Flexible working practices also need careful consideration. The Flexible Working Bill is set to come into effect in 2024, so hybrid and home working is here to stay. Employers need to start adjusting internal policies to reflect the changes. It is a good opportunity for employers to consider how those working remotely can be kept healthy, happy and motivated.

While employers can only do so much to help combat the effects of the cost-of-living crisis, there are steps that can be taken to support workers and negate some of the causes of ill-health in the workplace.

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*Source: Department for Education school workforce census data