Employee sick leave falls to lowest level

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of working days lost due to sickness or injury has reached a new low.

An estimated 137.3 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury in the UK in 2016. This is equivalent to 4.3 days per worker and is the lowest recorded since the series began in 1993, when the number peaked at 7.2 days per worker.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of working days lost due to sickness or injury was at the highest point during the 1990s.

Since 2003, there has been a fall in the number of days lost to sickness absence. Sickness absence fell to a low of 131.7 million days in 2013 but there were increases in 2014 and 2015. Despite this, the average days lost per worker and the overall sickness absence rate have remained largely flat due to an increasing number of people entering the labour market.

However, new research by Kronos suggests that sick leave absenteeism is still having a significant effect on UK business productivity. It has found that 24% of British workers have 5-6 of their working days disrupted by unauthorised absence between January and March. Many employees feel these absences are not for legitimate reasons, with 73% accusing their colleagues of taking sick leave when they were not ill, and a third admitting taking sick leave when they shouldn't have.

Key findings of the research include:

  • 37% predict that they or a co-worker will take unplanned absences or fake a sick day in the first quarter of 2017;
  • Stress is ranked highly as a cause for unplanned absences in the first quarter (32%);
  • 31% of Brits identify post-Christmas blues as the main reason for unplanned absences during the start of the year;
  • One third of survey respondents admitted to taking a sick day when they weren't actually sick in the past 12 months;
  • 73% believe their colleagues have "thrown a sickie" this year when they have not been ill.

Neil Pickering, marketing and industry insights manager at Kronos, said: "The latest statistics from ONS [are] … great news. But our experience suggests the wider story is very complicated. Unauthorised absenteeism has a significant impact on UK business productivity and this is felt more at specific times of the year.

"This disruption can be significant for both employers and employees. Absenteeism not only means that work is not delivered as efficiently, with colleagues covering roles they are not familiar with, but the stress levels of those employees in work also increase, risking fatigue and burnout."

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