18 Apr 2023

Sick leave and absenteeism: advice on breaking the cycle

The number of fit notes issued, along with a rise in long-term sickness is prompting firms to look at their absenteeism rates and ensure they have the right technology in place to manage and reduce this, according to Activ People HR.

Recent analysis of data by employment law firm GQ|Littler found that the number of fit notes issued by NHS medical professionals hit a record high of 10.4m, increasing 11% in 2021/22[i].

Fit notes[ii] are issued to patients following an assessment of their fitness for work. A fit note is issued after the first seven days of sickness absence (when patients can self-certify) if the healthcare professional assesses that the patient’s health affects their fitness for work.

The healthcare professional can decide the patient is ‘unfit for work’ or ‘may be fit for work subject to the following advice…’ with accompanying notes on suggested adjustments or adaptations to the job role or workplace.

New data from the Office for National Statistics[iii] has also revealed the number of people off due to long-term sickness has reached nearly 2.52 million (a record high).

The latest Health and Safety Executive data suggests that the majority of people off work with long-standing ill-health are suffering from stress, anxiety, or depression (51%) or musculoskeletal disorders (27%).

In response to these worrying trends, businesses are seeking ways to tackle sick leave in their organisation, including reviewing policies, offering more physical and mental health support, and introducing HR technology that can help track absence.

Our Activ Absence technology offers firms a way to record and manage any unplanned absence, including employee self-certification and return-to-work interviews. It gives managers the tools to track sick leave and gain valuable insight and data in real-time into what’s happening across the workforce.

It can monitor behaviour and show employees who have taken a lot of time off across a set period, which may indicate an issue. By highlighting trends and always having back-to-work interviews managers can intervene and offer support early before things escalate into long-term sickness.

This absence management data is essential for tackling staff sickness. It can enable businesses to see where problems are and look at what support needs to be offered to employees to manage any long-term illnesses.  This could be helping employees with advice and techniques for avoiding stress and burnout or ways to improve their musculoskeletal and physical health. Or it could be recommending where they go for further support if that is what is needed.

Reducing absenteeism has always been on the agenda but with record numbers now off on long-term leave it’s a priority. Employers have a vital role to play, especially at a time when the NHS is struggling to cope.

Investing in technology and supporting employees’ health and well-being is key to having a productive and motivated workforce, something that is vital for business success.


[i] https://hrnews.co.uk/number-of-uk-fit-notes-increases-11-to-hit-record-high-10-4m/

[ii] https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/fit-notes-issued-by-gp-practices/guide#:~:text=Fit%20notes%20are%20issued%20to,affects%20their%20fitness%20for%20work


[iii] https://www.standard.co.uk/business/business-news/number-of-britons-off-work-due-to-longterm-sickness-hits-record-high-figures-b1067158.html