UK workers take most sick leave in over 10 years, employers say

By David Milliken

LONDON (Reuters) – British workers took the most sick leave in more than a decade during the past year, a survey of employers showed on Tuesday, adding to signs of a lasting increase in ill health since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said a survey of several hundred employers showed the average employee took 7.8 days of sick leave during the past year. This was up from 5.8 in the last comparable survey in late 2019, and is the highest in records dating back to 2010.

“The considerable rise in absences across all sectors is a worry. External factors like the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis have had profound impacts on many people’s wellbeing,” said Rachel Suff, the CIPD’s senior employee wellbeing advisor.

The CIPD did not collect comparable data on sickness leave during the pandemic, while separate official data showed a dip in 2020 as furlough and other restrictions led to fewer people taking time off for minor ailments.

Sickness rates were up across the board, but varied widely between employers. Public-sector staff took over two weeks’ sick leave on average, nearly twice as much as employees in private-sector services firms. Large employers also report much higher absence rates than smaller ones.

More than a third of employers said COVID-19 remained a significant cause of short-term absence, although minor illnesses, injuries and mental ill health were all more common reasons. Stress commonly caused absence at more than a quarter of employers.

The CIPD data, which was sponsored by health insurer Simplyhealth and based on a survey conducted in March and April, show a similar trend to previous official data.

Britain’s Office for National Statistics said 2.6% of working hours were lost due to sickness or injury in 2022, the most since 2004 and equivalent to 5.7 days per worker.

The number of working-age people unable to work because of long-term ill health has also risen by almost half a million since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, unlike other causes of economic inactivity which have declined over the past year.

(Reporting by David Milliken; editing by William James)