Workplace absences in the UK have soared (Image: Getty)
Workplace absences in the UK have soared to the highest level in a decade, according to new research.
Staff called in sick for an average of 7.8 days over the past year – the highest rate seen in more than 10 years.
That is also an increase of two working days compared to the pre-pandemic rate of 5.8 days.
Now experts are calling on businesses to do more to support employees with health problems so they can continue to work.
Bradley Lay, a business finance adviser, described the UK workforce as ‘in crisis’.
Employee calls in sick (Image: Getty)
“Employee burnout and remote working, where people are often in isolation, are likely to be key contributors to skyrocketing sickness absence rates,” he said.
“Many people are also feeling added pressure as a result of rising costs due to inflation. Though the pandemic accelerated the shift towards remote work, employees are now struggling with isolation and a lack of work-life balance.
“Employers must adapt to provide more flexibility, or the crisis will worsen, further disengaging the workforce. It would seem that the traditional office setting is no longer suitable for the modern workforce. Action must be taken to prevent this crisis from escalating.”
The Chartered Institute for Professional Development (CIPD) and Simplyhealth, a provider of health cash plans, analysed sickness absence and employee health among 918 organisations, representing 6.5m employees.
Stress is now a major contributor to short and long-term absences, the report suggests, with 76 percent of respondents saying they took time off work in the past year for that reason.
The top cause of long-term absences is mental ill health at 63 percent while the top cause for short-term absences are minor illnesses at 94 percent.
And more than a third (37 percent) reported Covid-19 as still being a significant cause of short-term absence.
The report follows figures from the Office for National Statistics which, which showed the sickness absence rate rose to 2.6 percent in 2022, the highest it has been since 2004, when it was 2.7 percent.
The CIPD and Simplyhealth are calling on more organisations to create an open and supportive environment where people can speak to line managers about health issues.
Employees should also be able to access helpful support and adjustments such as flexible working options and health services, they said.
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Employees should access helpful support (Image: Getty)
Rachel Suff, senior employee wellbeing adviser at the CIPD, said: “External factors like the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis have had profound impacts on many people’s wellbeing.
“It’s good to see that slightly more organisations are approaching health and wellbeing through a stand-alone strategy. However, 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.”
Occupational sick pay leave schemes for all employees were offered by 69 percent of the organisation asked while 82 per cent provide an employee assistance programme.
More than half (53 percent) have a stand-alone wellbeing strategy – an increase from 50 percent last year.
Claudia Nicholls, chief customer officer at Simplyhealth said: “With record numbers of people off sick, employers have a vital role to play in supporting them through workplace health and wellbeing services. They can have a positive impact on the economy and ease pressure on the NHS.
“Despite an increasing number of workplace health and wellbeing services being put in place, employees are experiencing increasing mental health issues and the highest rate of sickness absence in a decade.
“However, focusing on fixing sickness alone is unlikely to uncover areas where any significant improvements can be made; companies 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.”