Insurance · 10 March 2017

UK employees have never been less likely to take sick days

National Sickie Day
The average British worker registered around four sick days in 2016

British workers have recorded the lowest number of sick days since records began, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

In 2016, 137m working days were lost through sickness and injuries – equivalent to 4.3 days per worker – a steep decline on the 185m sick days registered in 1999.

The figures also revealed the willingness of the self-employed to battle through sickness, with an absence rate 0.7 per cent lower than full-time employees.

Unhealthy lifestyles were also exposed – smokers had an absence rate 2.5 per cent higher than non-smoking counterparts.

Commenting on the fall in sick days, ONS statistician Brendan Freeman suggested that tough economic times could be one factor in deterring workers from taking sick days.

“Since 2003, there has been a fairly steady decline in the number of working days lost to sickness, especially during the economic downturn,” he said in a statement.

The fall in sick days comes in spite of workforce expansion. In December 2016, ONS reported that 31.84m were in work in Britain – 302,000 more than the previous year – while a surge in the popularity of self-employment has seen the number of Briton’s out of work reach an 11-year low.

The figures proved that the UK’s reputation for throwing sickies was “a myth”, according to Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC.

“We are really a nation of mucus troopers, with people more likely to go to work when ill than stay at home when well,” O’Grady said in a statement.

“Let’s not forget that working people put in billions of pounds’ worth of unpaid overtime each year.”

Further research has found that small business owners take a particularly hard line over sickie excuses from employees. In a recent study from healthcare insurer AXA PPP, fewer than a quarter considered a case of the common cold as sufficient to take a day off.

Owners at small firms were warned that such high expectations could risk widespread outbreaks of illnesses throughout the company.

Glen Parkinson, SME director for AXA PPP, urged small business owners to “challenge this blinkered attitude” in order to keep their workforce as productive as possible.

“In many cases it is more productive for an employee to take a day off to recover from a spell of illness rather than to come into work, with diminished productivity,” Parkinson said.

Offering advice to employers at small companies in response, Lynn Morrison, head of business engagement at energy supplier Opus Energy, highlighted the benefits of sickness prevention.

“Hygiene basics like hand-washing reminders, sanitiser and tissues will help during those early hours when symptoms start to arise. No one wants to get sick, so having easy access to tools to help you stay well is bound to be a hit,” she said.

The poor lifestyle choices costing unhealthy employees a month of productivity every year

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is a reporter for Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and previously worked as a content editor in the ecommerce industry.

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