UK employees taking fewer sick days but long-term conditions account for 50% of absence

June 19, 2017   //   No Comments

FitForWork highlighted a recent analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that workers in the UK are taking fewer sick days than ever before, a trend that hints at changes in attitudes and conditions in the workplace.  The report shows that every worker across Britain took on average 4.3 sick days in 2016 – down from a high of 7.2 days in 1993.  However, sickness levels are still significant and remain damaging to the productivity of UK businesses. An estimated 137.3 million working days were lost due to sickness and injury in 2016.  Major causes of sickness absence are:

  • Colds, flu, coughs and other minor illnesses accounted for the largest proportion of illnesses: 8% of total days lost, or 34 million working days.
  • Back pain, neck ache and upper limb problems (e.g. repetitive strain injury) and other musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs): 4% of total days lost, or 30.8 million working days.
  • Stress, depression, anxiety and all other mental health issues: 5% of total days lost or 15.8 million working days.

Short-term absences can actually have a less significant impact on organisations and individuals than long-term conditions such as MSDs, respiratory conditions and mental health issues. These long-term conditions account for almost 50% of sick days, and the impact of long-term absence (four weeks or more) cannot be underestimated. It can be a real struggle for organisations to cover the workloads of absent employees for extended periods, and the longer a person is off work, the harder it is for them to return.

Employers increasingly recognise the importance of good health among their employees and have been imaginative with their methods of improving morale, with the use of occupational health support, relaxation areas, flexible working and even yoga classes in the office.  Remember that SAIF Members have access to SAIFSupport which provides a completely confidential telephone and email helpline and members who need further support will be offered six free counselling sessions.  The service is run by Professional Help, a member of the British Association of Counselling & Psychotherapy, which specialises in counselling for workplace stress.  SAIF Members may contact SAIFSupport here:

Freephone: 0800 077 8578

Email: saifsupport@professionalhelp.org.uk