Sickness absence reaches record low

The number of sick days taken by UK workers has fallen to the lowest on record according to official figures.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that the average number of sick days taken by UK workers fell to 4.1 days in 2017, compared with 7.2 days in 1993 when ONS first began collecting such data.

The sickness absence rate is 1.7% in the private sector and 2.6% in the public sector. Sickness rates in the public sector have fallen faster than in the private sector since 2008, and now stand only marginally higher than the 2.3% rate in big private sector companies with 500 or more employees.

ONS data also reveal that more than a quarter (26%) of sickness absence days in 2017 were attributed to minor illnesses, such as coughs or colds. However, there has also been an increase in workers aged 25-34 citing mental health conditions as a reason for being off sick, rising from 7.2% of absences in 2009 to 9.6% in 2017. Women were more likely to report mental health problems as their reason for sickness absence – 8.1% of all absences reported by women compared to 5.7% of those reported by men.

Experts have however warned that these statistics may hide a growing ‘presenteeism’ problem. The CIPD Health and Wellbeing Survey revealed that many HR professionals had observed an increase in this trend and a survey from totaljobs earlier this year claimed that more than a third of employees feel under pressure to stay at work beyond their contracted hours for fear of being seen as work shy.