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12 April 2024

Alarming rise in UK sick leave: How does your industry fare and how do we reduce absence?

Alarming rise in UK sick leave: How does your industry fare and how do we reduce absence?

As employers, it’s crucial that businesses recognise that people are their strongest assets. But are companies doing enough to identify the challenges their people face and do employers have contingency in place for when staff can’t work? Recent research conducted by Access PeopleHR, a leading HR systems specialist, has illuminated a concerning pattern within UK businesses.

The Alarming Surge in Sick Leave

According to the Sick Leave Report 2024, which meticulously analysed data from over 1,700 companies, there has been a significant uptick in sick leave over the past four years. This increase affects both short-term and long-term illnesses, posing challenges for employers across various sectors. And whilst many will point to COVID as the main reason for the rise, there are underlying trends which started before, and have continued after, the pandemic.

Key Findings:

  1. Average Increase: Sick leave has risen by an average of 55 percent since 2019.
  2. 2023 Snapshot: In 2023, the average business reported 128 days of sick leave, marking a 6 percent rise compared to the previous year’s figure of 120 days.
  3. Sector-Specific Impact:
    • Real Estate: The real estate industry has witnessed a staggering 98 percent increase in sick days since 2019, soaring from an average of 47 days per company to 95 days.
    • Arts and Entertainment: Sickness rates in this sector surged by 159 percent over the past three years, rising from an average of 15 days per business annually to 39 days.

Identifying Absence Patterns

Customer-Facing Roles vs. Office-Based Positions

The research highlights that professions with customer-facing roles experience the most significant spike in sickness absence. This phenomenon may be attributed to a lower likelihood of remote work availability for these positions. Employees who interact directly with clients or customers face unique challenges, impacting their well-being and overall health.

Underlying Causes

While customer-facing positions play a role, other factors contribute to this concerning trend:

  • Burnout: Intense workloads (including covering for other people’s absence), stress, and exhaustion can lead to burnout, affecting attendance.
  • Conflict: Customer-facing jobs have been subjected to increased antagonism over the last 4 years with COVID rules and particularly the cost-of-living crisis causing extra conflict which has undoubtedly created stress-related absences.
  • Untapped Annual Leave: The study reveals a 7.6 percent drop in holiday days taken from 2022 to 2023. UK employees not utilizing their full annual leave entitlements may inadvertently exacerbate sickness-related issues.

Industry Insights

Industries witnessing the sharpest surge in sick leave over the past year include:

  • Real Estate Activities: A 67% increase in sick leave.
  • Financial Services: A 13% increase since 2022 and 67% since 2019.
  • Arts and Entertainment: As mentioned earlier, a significant rise in sickness rates.

Recognising sickness absence causes

As a specialist commercial recruitment agency, we recognise the importance of addressing sickness absence challenges head-on. Our commitment to finding the right talent for organisations includes understanding the dynamics of sick leave, its effect on workforce productivity and helping businesses formulate plans to ease the impact of absence.

For employers, it’s important to realise that sick leave is not necessarily a bad thing if the reasons are genuine. Illnesses are part of life, and everyone should feel that they can take time off when they’re fit to work. Staff staying at home when they have contagious conditions such as colds and flu can help suppress the spread of illness. 

It’s also imperative that businesses recognise when sick leave is caused by other conditions brought on by the environment staff work in. This could include stress caused by in-work relationships or workload, or physical detriments created by poor working practices.

Taking Action: How can employers help to cut sickness absences?

Recording reasons for sick leave can be beneficial for businesses to understand the reasons behind absences, spot trends and identify possible causes. This can be difficult and whilst HR software can help this needs to be done alongside other activities to ensure a holistic approach to absence management, such as:

  • Engage with employees who are off sick. Ask if they are ok, if they need any help and what their expected return to work date will be.
  • Conduct back to work interviews with staff who are absent for longer than two days. 
  • Analyse staff retention and identify ways to improve it. 
  • Provide staff with enough holidays to reduce burnout.  
  • Send alerts to employees devices to booking days off.  
  • Identify unengaged employees and understand their reasons for absence.  
  • Have a robust plan with a reliable temp agency to provide cover for holidays and sickness.

Remember, healthy people are productive people. By proactively managing sickness leave and promoting employee healthy living, businesses can alleviate the effects increasing absenteeism.

If you need temporary staff to cover commercial roles such as customer service, accounts, marketing, HR, payroll, and admin, speak to our Temp Teams in:

Crewe: Ellie Clarke 01270 589943 EllieC@kpir.co.uk
Stoke: Jess Grocott on 01782 712230 JessicaG@kpir.co.uk
Telford: Kayleigh Housden 01952 797577 KayleighH@kpir.co.uk
Warrington: Lydia Green 01925 637871 LydiaG@kpir.co.uk
Wigan: Katy Stobart 01942 597215 KatyS@kpir.co.uk

Hospitality - cover for bar staff, kitchen staff, chefs, FoH and more:
Glasgow: Mick Hayes 0141 732 9522 MichaelH@kpihospitality.co.uk 
Warrington: Tony Lewis 01925 637871 TonyL@kpihospitality.co.uk 
Crewe: Nick Icke: 01270 589943 NickI@kpir.co.uk 

For more detailed insights, refer to the full Sick Leave Report 2024 1.