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UK Experiences Highest Sick Leave Rates in 15 Years, says Recent Study

A recent study revealed that sick leave in the UK has surged to its highest rate in 15 years, exceeding levels recorded before the pandemic.

The study, conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the medical services company Simplyhealth, confirms that on average employees had 7.8 days sick leave over the past year. A spokesperson from CIPD confirmed that this is two days more than before the pandemic and marks the highest level since 2008.

The study collected data from 918 organisations, which represent 6.5 million employees, and analysed trends in sickness absence and employee health and wellbeing. The results found that stress is the main factor for both short and long-term absences with over 78% of those surveyed reporting stress-related absence in their organisation within the past year. The findings confirmed that a third (37%) of organisations reported COVID-19 as a contributor to short-term absences. 53% of the surveyed organisations have implemented a well-being strategy, representing a slight increase compared to CIPD’s survey conducted in 2021, where the figure stood at 50%.

Causes of short-term absence are:

  • Minor illnesses (94%)
  • Musculoskeletal injuries (45%)
  • Mental ill health (39%)

Causes of long-term absence are:

  • Mental ill health (63%)
  • Acute medical conditions, such as stroke or cancer (51%)
  • Musculoskeletal injuries (51%

The researched confirmed that organisations are focusing on employee health and wellbeing with 69% of organisations offering occupational sick pay and 82% of organisations providing an employee assistance programme (EAP). Sickness rates increased across all sectors but exhibited significant variation among employers. On average, public-sector employees took more than two weeks of sick leave, nearly double the absence rate of employees in private-sector service firms. Larger organisations reported notably higher rates of absence compared to smaller organisations.

Stress is the most significant contributor to absenteeism in the workplace. This proves that employers still have room for improvement when dealing with their employees’ mental health. The increase of stress among employees may be down to the result of the pandemic, cost of living, the war in Ukraine and economic turmoil. For employers, the UK is still facing a tight labour market as they struggle to recruit or retain employees because of worker shortages due to the pandemic and Brexit.

How to manage stress in your organisation

CIPD recommends that employers adopt the following measures to tackle stress in your organisation:

  1. Develop a systematic framework to enhance mental health outcomes for employees, like the Mental Health at Work Commitment. This framework consists of six standards with associated key actions that connect to practical tools and guidance. For more information on this click here.
  2. Employers can support line managers by offering training to become people managers who can be better equipped at supporting health and wellbeing of their employees.
  3. Offer occupational health assessments and work with occupational health specialists to manage the risks of stress and poor mental health.

CIPD have developed a guide with the mental health charity Mind which aims to guide organisations through the employee lifestyle to better support mental wellbeing. Readers may find this useful and you can access the guide here.

In addition to the above resources, FPM members can obtain further information via the FPM website. Alternatively, members can also email specific questions about employment issues to where your query will be dealt with in confidence.

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