Workplace absences soar to highest level in decade as ‘stress’ found to be major factor

Businesses called upon to create a supportive culture around health in workplace

Rebecca Speare-Cole
Tuesday 26 September 2023 06:28 BST
Diversity & Inclusivity in the workplace Survey
Diversity & Inclusivity in the workplace Survey (PA)

Workplace absences across the UK have soared to the highest level in a decade, a new report has found.

The Chartered Institute for Professional Development (CIPD) and Simplyhealth, a provider of health cash plans, are calling on businesses to create a supportive culture around health in the workplace.

It comes after the organisations analysed sickness absence and employee health among 918 organisations, representing 6.5 million employees.

They found that staff were absent from work for an average of 7.8 days over the past year – the highest rate seen in more than 10 years.

It is also comes as an increase of two whole days compared to the pre-pandemic rate of 5.8 days.

Stress is now a major contributor to short and long-term absences, the report suggests, with 76 per cent of respondents saying they took time off work in the past year for that reason.

The top cause of long-term absences is mental ill health at 63 per cent while the top cause for short-term absences are minor illnesses at 94 per cent.

And more than a third (37 per cent) of organisations reported Covid-19 as still being a significant cause of short-term absence.

The research shows that many organisations are trying to address health and wellbeing issues through a range of support.

Occupational sick pay leave schemes for all employees were offered by 69 per cent while 82 per cent provide an employee assistance programme, and 53 per cent of have a stand-alone wellbeing strategy – an increase from 50 per cent last year.

The CIPD and Simplyhealth are calling on more organisations to create an open and supportive environment where people can speak to line managers about health issues.

Employees should also be able to access helpful support and adjustments such as flexible working options and health services, they said.

Rachel Suff, senior employee wellbeing adviser at the CIPD, said: “External factors like the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis have had profound impacts on many people’s wellbeing.

“It’s good to see that slightly more organisations are approaching health and wellbeing through a stand-alone strategy.

“However, we need a more systematic and preventative approach to workplace health.

“This means managing the main risks to people’s health from work to prevent stress as well as early intervention to prevent health issues from escalating where possible.”

Claudia Nicholls, chief customer officer at Simplyhealth said: “With record numbers of people off sick, employers have a vital role to play in supporting them through workplace health and wellbeing services.

“They can have a positive impact on the economy and ease pressure on the NHS.

“Despite an increasing number of workplace health and wellbeing services being put in place, employees are experiencing increasing mental health issues and the highest rate of sickness absence in a decade.

“However, focusing on fixing sickness alone is unlikely to uncover areas where any significant improvements can be made; companies need to implement preventative health and wellbeing strategies that are supported by the most senior levels of leadership and build line manager skills and confidence to support wellbeing.”

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