Sick leave hits 10-year high in cost of living crisis

The 2023 absence rate is 34% higher than the pre-pandemic rate of 5.8 days

UK employees missed work for an average of 7.8 days over the past year, the highest level in over a decade, according to new research.

Over 76% reported stress-related absence in their organisation in the past year, compared with 79% during the pandemic, a survey from the CIPD and insurance company Simplyhealth has found.

Rachel Suff, senior wellbeing adviser at the CIPD, said the cost of living crisis may be behind many workers' mental health-related absences.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “The main cause of long-term absence is mental ill-health with stress also a major cause, and the cost of living crisis could undoubtedly be a contributing factor. 

“We know that money worries can cause or exacerbate poor mental wellbeing. Minor illnesses are always by far the top cause of short-term absence, but mental ill-health and stress also feature.”

Read more: Record numbers fall out of workforce due to long-term sickness

While the causes of short-term absence are minor illnesses, musculoskeletal injuries and mental ill health. 

The causes of long-term absence are mental ill-health, acute medical conditions, such as stroke or cancer and musculoskeletal injuries. 

The findings also show that 37% of organisations reported Covid as still being a significant cause of short-term absence.

There has been a recent spike in hospitals and the new Pirola variant has began to spread. 

Suff added that HR teams need to identify and address the main risks to their workforce’s health.

She said: “Organisations need to ensure they are addressing the main risks to people’s health at work, including psychological health where they can carry out a stress audit to identify the causes. 

“It’s important they adopt a systematic health and wellbeing approach based on prevention and early intervention to improve health outcomes for people. Where needed, adjustments to work and working patterns can help people to manage their wellbeing alongside work.”

The survey analysed trends in sickness absence and employee health and wellbeing among 918 organisations, representing 6.5 million employees.