Sick days hit a 10-year high

Emily Whitton
By Emily Whitton,
updated on Sep 28, 2023

Image shows a mug of tea, a pair of glasses and a tissue box with tissues scattered.

The number of sick days taken by UK workers has reached the highest point in 10 years. We take a look at why this is and what organisations can do to help

A report by the Chartered Institute and Personnel Development (CIPD) has found that the number of days taken off sick by UK workers has hit the highest point since 2010. The CIPD analysed absence caused by sickness and employee health across 918 organisations, representing 6.5 million employees.

The results revealed that staff were off sick for an average of 7.8 days in the past year, compared to 5.8 days before the pandemic and the highest number since 2010. Named factors behind these figures included recurrent cases of Covid-19 and long Covid and the cost of living crisis. “External factors have had profound impacts on many people’s wellbeing,” said Rachel Suff – senior wellbeing advisor at the CIPD.

Of the organisations that responded, 50% said that they have employees who had experienced, or who are currently experiencing, long covid. Over a third (37%) said that Covid was a significant cause of short-term absence. However, it’s likely that these figures may be underestimated as not everyone is aware of the symptoms or reports them.

Other causes of short-term absence were those considered to be ‘minor illnesses’ such as colds and musculoskeletal injuries. However, the biggest cause for concern is the number of days taken off sick due to mental ill health. 68% said this was the top cause, whilst 43% noted this as a reason for employees to take time off.

78% of the respondents said that stress was the cause of their sick leave. This is thought to be particularly prominent since the pandemic, which forced a huge shift in the way we work. Amongst economic challenges, the rise in people having to take on caring duties and flexible working, employees are increasingly feeling “disengaged and stressed,” said the CIPD. Whilst some people benefit from working from home, it can be incredibly difficult for those who live alone and have limited social contact. This is just one contributing factor in the rise of workplace mental ill health.

What can organisations do to help?

Rachel Suff commented on the role of organisations in supporting their employees. Whilst many said they offered paid sick leave, as well as implemented strategies for employee wellbeing, it’s clear that employers need to be doing more. “It’s important that organisations create an open, supportive culture where employees feel they can come forward,” Rachel said.

Psychologist and broadcaster, Dr Audrey Tang, told BBC Radio 5 Live that there is often misunderstanding from those at the top, adding, “Often, quick, short-term fixes such as lunchtime yoga or lunchtime ice cream vans are not what people need.”

With this in mind, what are some practical steps that employers can take to support their employees’ wellbeing?

  • Listen to employees and respond to their queries (even if it’s not something you can action).
  • Regularly survey employee satisfaction to understand what employees want.
  • Actively recognise employees’ achievements.
  • Invest in personal development training.
  • Create a wellness action plan.

Learn more about how to implement the above in your workplace with examples from Happiful in our article, What is ‘wellbeing washing’ (and how can it be avoided at work)?

Other ways that organisations can maintain the wellbeing and happiness of their staff include:

  • Training Mental Health First Aid Aiders with MHFA England to be equipped with the tools to be able to support one another in the workplace.
  • Setting up an Employee Assistance Programme so that staff are able to access counselling and professional support services.
Join Happiful’s ‘Work in Progress’ campaign for World Mental Health Day 2023 on Tuesday 10th October. Our campaign looks to provide a wealth of workplace resources and support to help ensure this critical piece of the wellbeing puzzle gets the ongoing care and attention it needs, from both employers and employees. Watch out for more information coming very soon!

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