06 Jun 2023

The importance of identifying root causes to tackle workplace sickness

Sickness absence increased to a record high last year according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics[i] – something employers need to nip in the bud according to Adrian Lewis, Co-founder and Global Lead for Activ People HR by gaining an understanding of what’s behind this trend.


The ONS found that around 185.6 million working days were lost to sickness or injury in 2022, almost 25% more than in 2021 and the highest since records began back in 1995. The most common reason for sickness absence was minor illnesses, accounting for almost a third (29.3%) of occurrences.


Other data from the Health and Safety Executive[ii]  shows that stress, depression or anxiety and musculoskeletal disorders accounted for most days lost due to work-related ill health in 2021/22, with on average, each person suffering taking around 16.5 days off work. It’s estimated that the increase in sick days in 2021 resulted in a £20.6bn cost to economy[iii], a figure that will keep growing each year if sickness absence continues to rise.


Adrian says, “As UK businesses battle with the cost of living crisis as well as recovering from the pandemic years, rising sickness absence is the last thing employers need. It’s costly and can disrupt the day to day running of the business. But understanding why people are off sick is key.


“Since the pandemic more employees are suffering from stress, anxiety and other mental health conditions as they got used to new ways of working, often remotely without the usual work support networks around them. Now people are facing financial challenges brought about by spiralling prices.


“Companies therefore need to have systems in place for tracking and reporting sickness absence so they can easily see if they have an increase in people off sick. This data can reveal trends and behaviours and enable businesses to react to prevent things escalating.


“Taking a data-led approach and using software such as absence management technology not only enables managers to spot patterns across the workforce, but prompts return to work interviews with every employee who has been off sick. These can be done face to face or virtually and give managers the chance to have a confidential conversation about why they were off.


“It may be something simple like a bad cold or flu; however, there may be other symptoms and signs that could indicate something more serious such as stress or burnout. Understanding the root cause of absenteeism allows managers to offer support or signpost people to further help.


“It can also be a red flag that something else is going on culturally that needs addressing such as unrealistic workloads and pressure, bullying behaviour or a toxic working environment that could be affecting the workforce. With sickness absence growing, it is important employers try to curtail this trend to avoid any long term impact to productivity and costs to the business.”


For more information on Activ People HR visit: www.activpeoplehr.co.uk.

[i] https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/labourproductivity/articles/sicknessabsenceinthelabourmarket/2022

[ii] https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/dayslost.htm#:~:text=Working%20days%20lost%2C%202021%2F22&text=Stress%2C%20depression%20or%20anxiety%20and,around%2016.5%20days%20off%20work

[iii] https://www.businessleader.co.uk/increase-in-sick-days-resulted-in-20-6bn-cost-to-economy/