Sickness absence in 2018

The latest statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal that an average of 4.4 days per worker were lost to sickness absence in 2018.

Among the data revealed by the ONS survey are the following:

  • The sickness absence rate was relatively flat between 2010 and 2018 and stood at 2.0% in 2018.
  • Minor illnesses were the most common reason for sickness absence in 2018, accounting for 27.2% (38.5 million days) of the total days lost to sickness. This was followed by musculoskeletal problems, at 19.7% (27.8 million days). After ‘other’ conditions, mental health conditions were the next most common reason, accounting for 12.4% (17.5 million days).
  • Sickness absence rates have been consistently lower for men than women since 1995, although rates for both sexes generally fell between 1995 and 2018. Women lost 2.5% of their working hours in 2018 as a result of sickness or injury, a fall of 1.3 percentage points since 1995. In contrast, men lost 1.6% of their working hours, which represents a fall of 1.0 percentage points since 1995.
  • Sickness absence rates for workers within the public and private sector stood at 2.7% and 1.8% respectively in 2018. The sickness absence rate for public sector employees has been consistently higher than the rate for private sector employees since 1995, although both sectors have seen an overall decrease.
  • When comparing the reasons given for sickness absence in the public and private sector, mental health conditions are given as the reason more frequently in the public sector. They accounted for 10.2% of absences in the public sector and 8.1% in the private sector in 2018. The gap between the public and private sector has narrowed from 7.7 percentage points in 2015 (14.9% and 7.2% respectively), when it was highest, to 2.1 percentage points in 2018 (10.2% and 8.1% respectively).
  • Workers in caring, leisure and other service occupations have the highest sickness absence rate - 2.9% in 2018. In contrast, those working in managerial and senior roles (e.g. chief executives and financial managers) have the lowest sickness absence rate, at 1.3%.
  • The sickness absence rate for part-time workers has been consistently higher than the rate for full-time workers. This can be explained in part by higher numbers of women working part-time, as they also tend to have higher rates of sickness absence. The sickness absence rates of both part-time and full-time workers declined between 1995 to 2018. The sickness absence rate for part-time workers in 2018 was 2.4% compared with 1.9% for full-time workers.