Author Bio ▼

Jamie Hailstone is a freelance journalist and author, who has also contributed to numerous national business titles including Utility Week, the Municipal Journal, Environment Journal and consumer titles such as Classic Rock.
August 2, 2018

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Sickness Absence

Sick days among British workers at record low

The average number of sickness absence days taken by UK workers has fallen to the lowest rate on record, according to official figures.

New figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show employees took an average of 4.1 sick days in 2017, compared with 7.2 days in 1993, when records began.

The ONS figures also reveal that more than a quarter (26.2%) of days lost through sickness absence last year were attributed to minor illness, such as coughs and colds.

And while minor illness remained the main reason for sickness absence in each age group, there was a difference between ages when other reasons were examined.

For example, musculoskeletal problems, such as back and joint pain, was the reason for sickness absence for one in five (20.8%) 50-to 64-year-olds and 18.7% of 35-to 49-year-olds.

The figures also show an increase in the proportion of younger workers aged 25 to 34, who attribute their sickness absence to mental health conditions, rising from 7.2% in 2009 to 9.6% in 2017, an increase of 2.4 percentage points.

The ONS figures also reveal a divide between the sexes in sickness absence, with women more prone to minor illnesses (38.5% compared with 32.7%) and men tending to experience more sickness absence due to musculoskeletal conditions (28% compared with 18.4%).

Women were also more likely than men to cite mental health conditions as reasons for sickness absence – 8.1% of women compared with 5.7% of men.

According to the ONS, sickness absence for mental health reasons could be higher for women because men are less likely to seek medical help for mental health problems than women and also because medical professionals are more likely to diagnose women with mental health conditions than men.

The General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Frances O’Grady said: “It’s time to ditch the myth that UK workers are always throwing sickies. The reality is that people are more likely to go to work when ill than stay home when well.

“If someone is poorly, good employers will encourage them to rest up and get better. UK workers already put in billions of pounds worth of unpaid overtime every year. They shouldn’t have to battle through illness as well.”

To read the full ONS report on sickness absence in the labour market, click here.


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