Sickness absence rates fell in last 10 years

More than 130 million days were lost due to sickness absence in the UK in 2013, down from 178 million days in 1993, according to research by the Office for National Statistics.

Sickness absence

Its Sickness absence in the labour market, February 2014 report, which looked at sickness absence trends over the past 20 years, found that most of the fall in sickness absence occurred between 2003 and 2011.

In 1993, around 7.2 days were lost per employees. By 2013, this had fallen to 4.4 days.

The main cause for working days lost in 2013 was musculoskeletal conditions, such as back and neck pain, leading to 31 million days lost.

The next most common cause was minor illnesses, such as coughs and colds (27 million days lost), followed by stress, anxiety or depression, at 15 million days lost.

The research also found that, among those aged 16 and over, men consistently had a lower sickness absence rate than women.

In 2013, men lost around 1.6% of their hours due to sickness, a fall of 1.1 percentage points from 1993, when 2.7% of men’s hours were lost to sickness.

Over the same period, women have seen a reduction of their hours lost, from 3.8% to 2.6%.

The research also found:

  • In 2013, the percentage of hours lost to sickness in the private sector was lower than in the public sector, at 1.8% and 2.9%, respectively.
  • Sickness absence rates were highest for those working in a health authority or NHS trust, at 3.4%.
  • Between October 2012 and September 2013, employees in London had the lowest percentage of hours lost to sickness, at 1.5%.
  • The highest percentage of working hours lost to sickness was in the east Midlands, Wales and north east, at 2.4% each.

Ami Naru, an employment specialist at law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: “While sickness absence in the workplace is inevitable and unavoidable most of the time, employers have toughened up in terms of policing sickness, with appropriate policies and procedures in place.

“The fall in sickness absence, although welcome news, will therefore probably not come as a surprise to those prudent employers that have such policies in place.

“In terms of approaches to tackle sickness, we have seen a variety of tactics used. For example, larger employers have in the past invested in in-house counselling support, which allows workers to get support on key issues that will help them recover and reintegrate into working life.

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“In addition, return-to-work interviews, used as part of an absence management procedure, are always a useful tool, because they allow an employer to ask important questions about the absence in a sympathetic manner, which often leads to an early intervention on key issues affecting their staff.

“Having the right tools in place can make a huge difference not only to absence rates, but to the overall welfare of staff.”