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Workplace Sickness Absence at Ten-Year High 

Workplace Sickness Absence at Ten-Year High 
27 September 2023

The highest level of UK employee sickness absence in a decade has been reported by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

UK employees were absent an average of 7.8 days over the past year, two whole days more than the pre-pandemic rate of 5.8 days, despite over a third of organisations reporting that COVID-19 remains a significant cause of short-term absence.

The survey, supported by Simply Health, analysed trends in sickness absence and employee health in 918 organisations between March and April 2023, representing 6.5 million employees. 

Most short term absences were caused by minor illnesses such as colds and flu, stomach upsets and headaches (94 per cent), musculoskeletal injuries (45 per cent) and mental ill health (39 per cent). Long term absences were attributed to mental ill health (63 per cent), acute medical conditions, such as stroke or cancer (51 per cent) and musculoskeletal injuries (51 per cent).

Musculoskeletal injuries are a particular concern in the construction sector, as recent figures show around 40,000 people in the industry suffer a musculoskeletal injury each year, which can cause years of agonising aches and pains.


Stress and the Cost of Living Causing Workplace Sickness?


Stress was also identified to be a significant cause for sickness absence, with over 76 per cent of respondents reporting stress-related absence in their organisation in the past year. Bodies such as The Mental Health Foundation believe that the current cost of living crisis will cause a mental health crisis on a similar scale to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

More positively, 53 per cent of organisations surveyed said they had a standalone wellbeing strategy, a slight increase from 50 per cent in 2021's survey.

Rachel Suff, Senior Employee Wellbeing adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said: “Despite our research showing that most organisations are focusing on employee wellbeing, the considerable rise in absences across all sectors is a worry. External factors like the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis have had profound impacts on many people’s wellbeing.  

“It’s good to see that slightly more organisations are approaching health and wellbeing through a standalone strategy. However, we need a more systematic and preventative approach to workplace health. This means managing the main risks to people’s health from work to prevent stress as well as early intervention to prevent health issues from escalating where possible. It’s important that organisations create an open, supportive culture where employees feel they can come forward.” 

Picture: a photograph of a person sitting up with their eyes closed, and their hand covering one of their eyes as if in despair. Image Credit: Unsplash

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 27 September 2023


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