Official data has revealed that last year 185.6 million working days were lost through sickness or injury – a record number of absences.   Sickness levels in the UK rose 2.2% in 2022. This is the highest rate on record since 2004.  The average number of days lost per worker last year was 5.7 days. 

What are the most common reasons for absence? 

The most common reasons for short term absence included minor illnesses (coughs, colds, sickness, nausea, diarrhoea and flu), which accounted for nearly a third of absences. 

A further 23.8% was attributed to accidents, infectious diseases, diabetes, and poisoning. 

10.5% was recorded as musculoskeletal problems 

8.3% for respiratory conditions 

7.9% for mental health conditions 

Fit notes have also reached record levels, with 10.4 million issued in September 2022. The most common reasons for this were cited as Covid, and mental health issues. 

How can you support employees 

There is evidence that the mental health issues which are causing absence are largely due to the “state of the economy”. Financial pressures, the cost-of-living crisis, and workload are all affecting employee’s mental health and ability to perform to their usual levels. 

Other studies have shown that separation and divorce rates are causing absence and mental ill health, estimating that only 1 in 5 couples married in 2011 were divorced by their tenth anniversary. This has a knock on affect not only on absence for the employee, but also the additional pressures of childcare, and supporting children throughout this time. 

Many employees are caring for older relatives, another aspect which can be difficult to manage alongside their usual work, and which potentially adds to burnout and ill health.  

Another significant issue is that of the housing crisis. Current figures show that of all families made homeless in the UK, 1 in 4 are occupied by a person in full-time employment. 

Government Support 

The government have been asked to make “simple tweaks” to statutory sick pay, to ensure all workers receive it. At present, SSP is only payable after 3 days of absence, and is not available to many employees due to the eligibility earning criteria. Additionally, the rate of SSP is significantly below the minimum or living wage, and unlikely to be enough for employees to survive on in the event of absence. 

Adopt a Pro-active Approach 

One of the best ways to maintain acceptable standards of attendance is to adopt a pro-active approach. Keep accurate records of absences, supported by return-to-work interviews and other supportive meetings. Training managers to identify (and act upon) signs of pressure, mental ill health, stress or illness is fundamental in ensuring support is available early on.  Adopting an open, supportive culture where individuals can discuss concerns is also vital. Equally important is a consistent approach in managing employees whose absence levels are causing concern.  

We can support you with absence management in many ways including the drafting and implementation of attendance policies, implementing action plans and supportive measures where attendance is below acceptable levels, and training for managers in managing absence, to name a few.   

Please contact us if you would like to discuss any concerns relating to attendance, or to discuss how we can work with you to maintain (or achieve) acceptable levels.