137.3m working days lost due to sickness or injury in 2016

An estimated 137.3 million working days in the UK were lost due to sickness or injury in 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Its Sickness absence in the labour market: 2016 report found that minor illnesses, such as colds and coughs, were the most common reason for sickness absence in 2016, accounting for approximately 34 million days lost.

Musculoskeletal conditions, including back pain, neck and upper limb problems, accounted for 30.8 million days lost to sickness absence last year, and mental health issues, such as stress, depression, anxiety and schizophrenia accounted for 15.8 million working days lost in 2016.

The report, which relates to working adults in the UK who are aged 16 and over, found that sickness absence accounted for 4.3 days lost per employee in 2016. This is the lowest level since records began in 1993, when 7.2 days were lost to sickness absence per employee.

The overall sickness absence rate in 2016 for the UK was 1.9%. The sickness absence rate for employees living in London was 1.4%, compared to 2.6% in Wales and 2.5% in Scotland.

Public sector workers had a sickness absence of 2.9%, compared to 1.7% for private sector employees. Employees who work in organisations with 500 or more employees had a higher sickness absence rate (2.5%) than employees who work in small organisations with less than 25 staff members (1.6%).

Women had a higher sickness absence rate than men in 2016, at 2.5% compared to 1.6%. Other demographics who experienced the highest rates of sickness absence include employees with long-term health conditions (4.4%), employees aged 65 and over (2.9%), smokers (2.5%), employees working in caring, leisure, other service or elementary occupations (2.7%), and part-time employees (2.6%).

Nathan Long, senior pension analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Improvements to healthcare have reduced the average number of sick days per [employee] but there are clues to a more challenging future. Both older and part-time [staff] have a greater proportion of days absent through sickness. As [the] state pension age rises and the decline in so-called gold plated final salary pensions continues, we will be working longer. There is also increasingly a trend to [employees] semi-retiring; accessing their pension to allow part-time hours. Employers who prioritise retirement planning within the workforce can minimise the impact of these challenges.”

Beverley Sunderland, managing director at Crossland Employment Solicitors, added: “Many employers are now recognising the importance of wellbeing in the workplace and that to look after an employee’s health has a long-term positive effect on the business. The use of occupational health, relaxation areas, massages at work, yoga classes, ‘duvet days’ and sensible working hours is improving productivity and ensuring staff retention at a time when skills shortages are really starting to become an issue in some parts of the country.”