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Businesses lost 4.4 days per worker to sickness or injury in 2018

Mental health-related sickness absence has risen 50% in two years

An estimated 141.4 million working days were lost because of sickness or injury in the UK in 2018, equivalent to 4.4 days per worker, official figures show.

It represents a rise from 2017, when the number of sickness absence days reached the lowest since records began at 4.1 days per worker.

Despite this, the total number of days lost remained relatively flat between 2010 and 2018 and stood at 2% in 2018, according to the data from the Office for National Statistics.

Paul Avis, marketing director at Canada Life Group Insurance, said the uptick in the number of sickness absence days between 2017 and 2018 is welcome because it hopefully signifies that employees are starting to realise the importance of taking the time to rest and recover from illness.

“Presenteeism is entrenched in our society, costing us up to £26bn a year, and the explosion of workplace technology means the need to be ‘always on’ can have serious repercussions on the health and productivity of UK employees,” he argued.

The four most common reasons for sickness absence in 2018 were minor illnesses (including coughs and colds), musculoskeletal problems (including back pain and neck and upper limb problems), “other” conditions (including accidents, poisonings and diabetes), and mental health conditions (including stress, depression and anxiety).

Mental health as a cause of sickness absence has increased by around 50% over two years. 

“Employers must ensure they have the necessary support structures in place and communicate them effectively to avoid staff battling on into work while unwell,” Avis said. “Crucially, mental health must be treated with the same degree of understanding and respect as physical health issues.”

The data also shows that 37% of the 141 million lost days were attributed to workers aged 50-64, despite this age group representing just 28% of the total working population.

Alistair McQueen, head of savings and retirement at Aviva, said a fast-growing population of mid-life workers is to be welcomed, however a fast growing poorly population of workers “is not good for the individual and not good for the country”.