Workplace absences in the United Kingdom have soared to their highest level in over ten years, signalling a pressing need for employers to focus on staff wellbeing, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic and rising cost of living. A new study by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) shines a light on the crucial issue, encouraging businesses to prioritize health initiatives to retain their workforce.
The Alarming Data Points
The CIPD analyzed data from more than 900 companies that employ approximately 6.5 million staff. The findings reveal an average of 7.8 absence days per employee in the past year—a significant uptick of two full days compared to pre-pandemic levels. Short-term absences were mostly attributed to minor illnesses, but stress stood out as a predominant factor, particularly for long-term sickness. A staggering 76% of surveyed employees were off work due to stress-related issues over the past year, and mental health was the culprit for 63% of all long-term absences.
The Underlying Causes
While COVID-19 remained a significant reason behind short-term absences, work-related stress and the cost of living are primarily affecting the UK’s working population. In line with this, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that over 2.6 million people are currently without jobs due to health-related factors—a list that has grown by nearly half a million in just three months. Furthermore, a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) warns that the soaring absentee rates pose a “serious fiscal threat” to the country.
The NHS Quandary
The strain doesn’t end with the private sector; the National Health Service (NHS) is also feeling the weight of the situation. Long NHS waiting lists are contributing not just to the health decline of citizens but also adding a financial burden on the taxpayer. These factors are intertwined in a complex web, affecting both the economy and the wellbeing of the nation.
An Urgent Call to Action
Although there are a rising number of workplace support schemes, the study, supported by health plan provider Simplyhealth, emphasizes that many of these are inadequate and lack flexible working options and health services. Rachel Suff, senior employee wellbeing adviser at the CIPD, argues for a more systematic and preventative approach to tackle workplace health issues. She states, “Managing the main risks to people’s health from work to prevent stress is key.”
Claudia Nicholls, chief customer officer at Simplyhealth, concurs. She stresses the need for strategies that go beyond merely “fixing sickness” to a more holistic approach that includes building line manager skills and confidence to support wellbeing.
The Workers Union Says…
With record numbers of people off sick, employers have a crucial role to play in supporting their workforce. Proactive steps are needed to enhance the health and wellbeing of employees, which, in turn, can boost productivity, minimize absenteeism, and make a positive impact on the economy. Comprehensive and flexible health and wellbeing strategies should be at the forefront of every organisation’s action plan, supported by the most senior levels of leadership.
The Workers Union encourages businesses to take employee wellbeing as a serious commitment, not just an HR buzzword. It’s high time that the wellbeing of the UK’s workforce is prioritized, with robust measures in place for early intervention and prevention. Employers should pay heed to these alarming trends and invest in comprehensive strategies that aim for both prevention and early intervention. The health of the workforce is a shared responsibility and should be a core focus for any sustainable and forward-thinking organization.