Thu 12 Oct 2023

Sickness absence rates at highest level for 10 years

This year's CIPD/Simplyhealth health and wellbeing at work survey shows the average absence rate has increased significantly.

The annual CIPD/Simplyhealth health and wellbeing at work is well known as a useful bench marking tool on how employers are managing the health and wellbeing of employees in the workplace.  In previous years the headline grabber for the survey has been the average sickness absence rate per employee per year, but for the last few years it hasn't been possible to validly calculate that figure because of the impact of the pandemic.  However, that figure has returned this year and the news is not good.  In 2019 the figure was 5.8 days absence per employee per year.  In 2023 that has risen to 7.8 days absence per employee per year.  That equates to 3.4% of working time being lost each year. 

Sickness absence levels and causes

Although an increase in absence levels has been seen over all sectors, as in previous years, the absence rate in the public sector is considerably higher than that in the private sector - 10.6 days per year for the former versus 5.8 days per year for the latter.  Within sectors, smaller organisations tend to have lower levels of absence than larger ones.

Although this year's survey shows the highest absence figures for a decade, the causes of absence remain the same.  Musculoskeletal injuries and mental ill health appear within the top four reasons for absences of any length, although minor illness is the main cause of short-term absence and Covid-19 also still impacts there.  Longer term absences are also contributed to by acute medical conditions and stress (which is categorised separately from mental ill health).  Covid also impacts long term absence with 50% of organisations reporting that they have employees who have experienced or are experiencing long Covid in the last 12 months. 

Wellbeing activity

The survey report shows most organisations are increasing their focus on health and wellbeing.  Mental health remains the most common focus for wellbeing and over three quarters of organisations are taking steps to identify and reduce stress. 

The report is also going over well-trodden ground when highlighting the key role line managers play in supporting health and wellbeing.  This comes from both sides of the coin, with line managers often taking primary responsibility for short-term absence, yet "management style" remains among the top causes of stress related absence. 

Possibly in response to the ongoing cost of living crisis, financial wellbeing is receiving increased attention with 57% of organisations indicating their wellbeing strategy is designed to promote financial wellbeing.

Presenteeism and leaveism

Presenteeism (working when ill) and leaveism (working during annual leave) also continue to be persistent problems.  Presenteeism has been observed in 87% of organisations, while leaveism was seen in 63% of organisations.  Despite this, only 41% of organisations are taking steps to discourage presenteeism and even less (35%) are attempting to reduce leaveism. 

For the first time this year, included with the main report (which is based on data from HR and L&D professionals) is an additional report based on data taken from workers.  This sets out employee views on health and wellbeing in five specific areas including how they feel about presenteeism.  This  concludes that pressure to work while not feeling well often comes from within, with employees feeling less pressure from their managers or colleagues, although a greater workload is also linked to greater presenteeism.  The Health and wellbeing at work 2023: Views of employees report is well worth a read alongside the main report and also looks at how employees feel about their physical and mental health; how they feel work contributes to health-related conditions; how they feel about their line managers; and how they feel about their workload.

Menopause and menstrual health

Another facet of wellbeing that is seeing increased support is employees going through the menopause with the number of organisations including provision for this rising from 30% last year to 46% this year.  However, that does not translate into support for menstrual health more generally with only 15% of organisations saying they have a policy covering it. 

What can employers do to support workplace wellbeing?

Better employee morale and engagement, a healthier and more inclusive culture and better work life balance are identified as the most common benefits of health and wellbeing activity.  So, what can employers do to try and get the best results for the wellbeing activity they are doing?  Currently only 27% of organisations critically assess the quality of wellbeing outcomes.  Systematically assessing whether the steps that are being taken are meeting the needs of the employees will ensure money is spent in an effective and efficient manner.  Senior leadership needs to be more engaged (or in some cases re-engaged) and critically line managers need to be guided and supported both to ensure their management styles are appropriate and do not contribute to work related stress, and to ensure they are able to confidently and effectively help with the wellbeing of employees.

Make an Enquiry

From our offices we serve the whole of Scotland, as well as clients around the world with interests in Scotland. Please complete the form below, and a member of our team will be in touch shortly.

Morton Fraser MacRoberts LLP will use the information you provide to contact you about your inquiry. The information is confidential. For more information on our privacy practices please see our Privacy Notice