· News

A third of businesses short-staffed due to sickness

There are 908,000 vacancies across the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics

A third (34%) of UK businesses reported being short-staffed at least once a week, a survey commissioned by temporary work platform Indeed Flex has revealed.

An additional fifth (23%) of businesses reported being under-staffed at least once a month. 

Of those who were short-staffed, half (49%) said it was due to employees being off sick.

The survey, which concluded last month (March 2024), also found that nearly two in five (38%) companies used more temporary staff to plug gaps than they did a year ago, due to difficulties finding permanent staff.

Meanwhile 24% of businesses found it hard to fill vacancies in the last year. A survey by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and KPMG this week (8 April) also found that more employers were looking to hire temporary staff than permanent staff in March 2024.

Barbara Matthews, chief people officer at HR software Remote, explained that flexible working could help employers tackle staff shortages and vacancies.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “In addition to competitive salaries, potential employees are increasingly looking for flexible working environments when selecting their next role and offering remote or flexible working arrangements is critical in the ongoing battle to attract and retain talent.

“The key to reducing the number of ‘sickies’ is to offer a more flexible working environment. 

“A work environment that is inflexible, such as one which requires employees to be physically present in an office on a rigid schedule, can force employees to have to choose between their work and their personal life.”

Read more: Burnout affects a fifth of UK employees as long-term sick hits record high

Lou Campbell, workplace mental health professional and director of Wellbeing Partners, told HR magazine that burnout was contributing to employee sickness.

She said: “One of the main drivers of employees taking more sick leave than ever before is due to burnout – a phenomenon which has risen dramatically since mid 2021. 

“More than half of our corporate counselling sessions are now with employees who are experiencing moderate to severe burnout.”

Research by Mental Health UK in January 2024 found that 20% of workers needed to take time off work due to stress in the last year.

Campbell added that employers should offer more support for employees’ mental health.

She continued: “With the NHS and EAPs unable to provide the level of support required, employers are having to step up and provide additional protection and support to their greatest asset, their employees.”

Indeed Flex also found that, of the companies who reported being under-staffed, 34% reported that staff were unwilling to work certain days or hours, while 28% noted staff were unwilling to work overtime.

Simon White, chief people officer at employee engagement app Blink, commented that employees might be unwilling to work overtime due to lack of motivation. 

Read more: HR leaders see mental health absences rise, report shows

He told HR magazine: “Overtime, like most areas, is about motivation. The most obvious reason for overtime is money.

“Some people will work overtime for financial reasons, and that's great. If your business needs the hours and your employee needs or wants money it's a match made in heaven. 

“For others, there could be a resentment factor: ‘Why should I do it?’ or ‘Why should I cover for that person?'. In that case, overtime is the symptom, not the issue. 

“[Resentful employees aren't] assuming positive intent, they aren't engaged or seeing themselves as part of something bigger.”

White added that in some cases employees might not be able to work overtime due to external responsibilities: “It's not always just about willingness here. For many, responsibilities outside of work will make it impractical to work overtime, even if they want to do it.”

He recommended that businesses should create a culture of inclusion to boost employee engagement.

White continued: “Creating a culture where employees want to be part of something bigger will help with this; it can change a 'no' this week to a ‘But I'd love to do it next week’. 

“Being understanding about someone genuinely not being able to do it today will impact their incentive to volunteer tomorrow.”

Indeed Flex surveyed 400 employers, managers and HR personnel.