Sickness absence at 15-year low

sickness absence

The rate of sickness absence in the UK has fallen to its lowest level in 15 years, according to XpertHR.

Despite the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, working time lost to sickness absence in 2020 dropped to just 2.2% in 2020, down from 2.7% in 2019 and 2.5% in 2018. The average employee took five days off sick last year, compared with 6.4 in 2019.

XpertHR, which gathered the data from 190 organisations via its annual survey on sickness absence, suggested that homeworking, shielding and the furlough scheme could have all potentially contributed to the decline in sickness absence last year. Employers could have also changed the way they reported sickness absence while staff were working from home.

Noelle Murphy, senior HR practice editor at XpertHR, believes that a fall in sickness absence is perhaps an unintended consequence of the restrictions put in place to mitigate Coronavirus, but considering that a large portion of the workforce was working from home, isolating, or working with strict safety measures, it is easy to understand this decline. She said hybrid working is set to pose new challenges for HR professionals.

She added: “We know that adaptations for the post pandemic world will touch each point in the employment lifecycle and people management – how we measure and manage sickness absences is no exception. It’s vital that HR professionals arm themselves with the right tools, data, and guides to shift their approach for this new world, ensuring ongoing effective management of sickness absence and employee wellbeing.”

XpertHR’s data showed that sectors where staff were unable to work from home during the pandemic saw higher levels of sickness absence. Thirty-eight per cent of manufacturing and production firms saw sickness absence rise, compared with 23% of private sector services firms.

Six in 10 private sector services companies recorded a drop in sickness absence.

The public sector saw the highest levels of sickness absence in 2020 at an average 2.8% of working days lost per employee. Many of these employees would have been working on the frontline and could have been more exposed to Coronavirus than employees in other sectors.

The cost of sickness absence in 2020 stood at a mean of £503 and a median of £390 per employee. In 2019 these figures were £544 and £568 respectively.