UK employee absence rates reach highest level in a decade

UK employees absentUK employees were absent an average of 7.8 days over the past year, the highest level in over a decade and two days more than the pre-pandemic rate of 5.8 days, according to new research.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the professional body for HR and people development, and health insurance provider Simplyhealth’s survey analysed trends in sickness absence and employee health and wellbeing among 918 organisations, representing 6.5 million employees.

It found that the top causes of short-term absence were minor illnesses (94%), musculoskeletal injuries (45%) and mental ill health (39%), with 37% of organisations reporting Covid-19 as still being a significant cause of short-term absence.

The top causes of long-term absence were mental ill health (63%), acute medical conditions such as stroke or cancer (51%), and musculoskeletal injuries (51%). Stress was a significant factor for both short- and long-term absences, with 76% reporting stress-related absence in the past year.

To combat this, 69% of organisations offer occupational sick pay leave schemes for all employees and 82% provide an employee assistance programme. More than half (53%) have a stand-alone wellbeing strategy, which is an increase from 50% in 2021.

Rachel Suff, senior employee wellbeing adviser at the CIPD, said: “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.”

Claudia Nicholls, chief customer officer at Simplyhealth, added: “With record numbers of people off sick, employers have a vital role to play in supporting them through workplace health and wellbeing services. However, focusing on fixing sickness alone is unlikely to uncover areas where any significant improvements can be made; employers need to implement preventative health and wellbeing strategies that are supported by the most senior levels of leadership and build line manager skills and confidence to support wellbeing.”