Despite experiencing a global pandemic that has led to over 4.2m cases of Covid-19 across the UK, pandemic measures such as furloughing, social distancing, shielding and the ability to work from home appear to have reduced other causes of sickness absence.
Leading provider of Basic, Standard and Enhanced DBS Checks, Care Check has analysed a recent ONS release to find that in 2020 sickness absences in the UK fell to the lowest level since records began.
In total, 118.6million working days were lost because of sickness or injury last year, equating to 3.6 days lost per worker; the lowest level since the time series began in 1995. This is a 17% decrease from the 138.2million working days lost in 2019 (4.2 days per worker).
The sickness absence rate is the percentage of working hours that have been lost to illness or injury.
Key Workers Saw an Increase in Absences
Key workers were the only occupational group that did not see a significant decrease in sickness absences. Many key worker categories include jobs that are public facing, therefore are at a higher risk of becoming sick.
Public Safety and National Security saw a rise of 0.8 percentage points from 2019 to 2020. Health and Social Care saw a 0.5 point rise, Food and Necessary Goods increased by 0.2 and Key Public Services saw a rise of 0.2.
Top Causes of Sick Days
Minor illness (including coughs, colds/flu, sickness, nausea and diarrhoea) saw a fall of 4.3 percentage points between 2019 and 2020; potentially due to social distancing guidelines meaning significantly less opportunities for the transmission of germs.
Musculoskeletal problems (including back pain, neck and upper limb problems) were the second most common reason for sickness absence for most of the decade. However, in 2020, this was overtaken by “other” problems (including accidents, poisonings, infectious diseases, skin disorders, diabetes and Covid-related illnesses).
Covid-19 had its own category created, and this accounted for 14% of the reasons given for sickness absences.
The Real Life Impact
A number of businesses have seen a real time impact on their productivity due to pandemic measures keeping their employees safe from minor illness.
Charles Eason, MD of Care Check, says “It’s pretty significant to see that there has been such a drop in absences due to mental health issues. While the pandemic has certainly had an impact on our mental health as a nation, it’s encouraging to see that this hasn’t spiralled out of control within workplaces.
“I imagine this is down to a lot of recent awareness being brought to the issue of mental health in the workplace, businesses have been taking heed of this and implementing initiatives to ensure that their employees are not suffering.
“The pandemic has changed a lot about the ways that we work, and forced a lot of people to focus on their work/life balance. While this was a challenge at the start, after a year of adjustments I think a lot of people are enjoying being able to spend more time with family, and the slightly slower pace of life that social distancing has brought us.”