Sick days cost UK nearly £29bn a year

Sick days are costing UK business nearly £29 billion a year as UK workers take more than four times as many days off work due to sickness as their global counterparts, according to research by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC).

The research, which is based on data gathered from 2,500 organisations, found that UK workers have an average of 9.1 days off from their jobs each year due to sickness.

This is nearly double the amount workers in the US take at 4.9 days of sickness a year, and four times more than their counterparts in Asia Pacific (2.2 days) and higher than Western Europe (7.3 days).

While UK employees are taking fewer unscheduled absence days compared to two years ago (9.8 days in 2013, compared to 10.1 days in 2011), the number of these days that are due to illness has risen over that time (9.1 days in 2013, up from 8.7 days in 2011) and so the associated cost of staff sickness has also risen.

The research also found that technology organisations have the lowest level of sick days of any sector at 3.4 days. This is three times lower than public sector workers (11.1 days).

Retail and leisure, and engineering and manufacturing workers are not far behind, taking an average of nine days and 8.7 days, respectively.

Jon Andrews (pictured), HR consulting leader at PWC, said: “Absence is still a significant drain on British businesses.

“At a time when organisations are striving for growth, it is vital they address this cost by looking for ways to improve employees’ health, morale and motivation.

“Allowing greater workplace flexibility could go a long way to helping break the sickness cycle.

“Forward-looking organisations will invest in health and wellbeing services to tackle the issue before absence starts to hit their bottom lines. This is particularly relevant for start-ups and [small and medium-sized employers] (SMEs), where the cost of absence can be particularly crippling.

“With the demographics of the workforce rapidly changing as many people are now having to work far longer before they retire, organisations are likely to see a greater level of sickness if they don’t start addressing this issue now.”