British workers are taking the most sick days in a decade, according to new research.
The average worker took 7.8 sick days in the past year, up from 5.8 before the pandemic, according to the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD). The trade group said the rise was “worrying” and blamed stress, Covid and the cost-of-living crisis.
“These conditions are having profound impacts on many people’s wellbeing,” it added.
The research analysed rates of absence in more than 900 organisations, representing 6.5 million employees. It was conducted by the CIPD, in partnership with Simplyhealth, a healthcare company that provides outpatient support. The study found that minor illnesses were the main reason for short-term absences, followed by musculoskeletal injuries and mental ill health.
Meanwhile, more than a third of organisations also reported Covid-19 was still a significant cause of sick days. Staff on long-term sick leave tended to blame mental health issues, musculoskeletal injuries or conditions such as cancer and stroke. The CIPD said changes in working culture since the pandemic coupled with the cost-of-living crisis had left some employees feeling disengaged and stressed.
Working from home could also present an issue for staff who lived alone or had limited social contact. Rachel Suff, senior employee wellbeing adviser at the CIPD, said that public sector sick days were almost double than that of the private sector.
“Absence has always been higher in bigger organisations – and that goes for private sector as well – and there are a lot of large organisations in the public sector,” she told the BBC.
“Also, there are an awful lot of front-line roles [in the public sector],” she said, citing extra pressures on people working in organisations such as the NHS.
Most of the organisations surveyed said they offered sick pay, while around half had a strategy to improve staff wellbeing. However, the CIPD said rates of absence were still rising and employers needed to do more. Ms Suff from the CIPD said employers needed to better manage the causes of workplace ill-health and intervene early to stop issues escalating.
“It’s important that organisations create an open, supportive culture where employees feel they can come forward,” she added.
Dr Audrey Tang, a psychologist and broadcaster, told BBC Radio 5 Live there was “a mismatch of understanding from people right at the top” about what workers needed.
“Often, quick, short-term fixes such a lunchtime yoga or lunch time ice cream vans are not what people need,” she said.
The CIPD’s research is a reminder of the importance of employee wellbeing, both for the individual and for the organisation as a whole. Employers need to create a culture where staff feel supported and valued, and they need to be proactive in addressing the causes of workplace ill-health.