Tue 09 May 2023

Working days lost to sickness absence at record high

Recently published figures from the Office of National Statistics ("ONS") shows a rise in absence rates.


According to newly published data, the sickness absence rate (the percentage of working hours lost because of sickness or injury) rose to 2.6% in 2022, an increase of 0.4% from the previous year.  In practical terms, this is the loss of 185.6 million working days which is a record high.   By way of comparison, the pre-pandemic figure from 2019 was 138.2 million working days.  Until 2020, the figure had been steadily decreasing, with the last two years seeing a significant upturn.

The sickness absence in the UK labour market data also showed that the most common reason for absence was "minor illness".  However, "respiratory conditions" has overtaken "mental health conditions" to become the fourth most common reason for absence in 2022.  Respiratory conditions now account for more than twice the occurrences they did before pandemic.  The other significant reasons for absence were musculoskeletal problems and "other" which includes Covid-19 as well as other conditions such as diabetes, infectious diseases and skin disorders.

While all age groups experienced an increase in sickness absence rates, groups with the highest rates included women, older workers, those with long term health conditions, part-time workers and people working in care, leisure or other service occupations.  Men have consistently had lower absence rates than women since 1995, and in 2022 the rate for men was 2.2% and for women 3.2%.  Absence rates were also higher for part-time workers than full-time workers (also a consistent pattern over the years). 

The number of days lost to sickness absence for those with long-term health conditions has also reached a record high - 104.9 million days.  This highlights how employers are continuing to struggle with returning employees with long-term health difficulties to the workplace.

These statistics make for interesting reading and provide some thought provoking data that could be used to focus further research. In the meantime, employers should consider to what extent sickness absence is a material issue for their organisation and, if it is, what steps they might take to improve the position.

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