The sickness absence rate climbed to 3.1% in 2021 – equivalent to 7.3 days per employee – as more than four in 10 UK employers feel sickness absence at their organisation is too high.
The sickness absence rate recorded by XpertHR reached its highest level since 2009, after it fell to 2.2% at the height of the pandemic in 2020 – which was a 15-year low.
Absence per employee costs each employer an annual average of £781 in sick pay and lost productivity, the research found.
The rate of absence varied by industry. In private sector organisations where working from home was more viable, for example in finance and information/communications, the figure was 3%. In more public facing roles such as retail and wholesale the absence rate was 3.3%.
In the public sector, the sickness absence rate in 2021 was notably higher at 4.4%.
XpertHR suggested that the lifting of measures to stem the spread of Covid-19 in the second half of 2021 contributed to an increase in sick days. In 2020, the rate was much lower as homeworking, shielding and furlough reduced infections and sick leave.
Respondents to XpertHR’s survey, which involved 149 employers with a combined workforce of 155,682, were also asked how they felt about the sickness absence rate in their organisation. Forty-three per cent felt their absence levels were too high, and 67% felt unable to gather the data needed to effectively manage absence.
XpertHR’s senior HR practice editor Noelle Murphy said: “High absence rates can have a huge impact on the functioning of a business. It can leave companies under-staffed, often piling on the pressure on those employees who are present which in and of itself is very unhealthy and unsustainable.
“We also know that proactively managing sickness absence can drive down rates of absenteeism. The starting point for this is accurate and robust data. Collecting data will prove useful for identifying trends and helping HR departments manage sickness absence, but many HR professionals have expressed difficulty in doing this.
“Just 54 of the 149 organisations surveyed were able to provide data on absence cost. This is an issue because, where HR departments can help control or reduce the often significant cost of sickness absence, they can demonstrate that they are making a strong strategic contribution to the organisation.
“Data for measuring sickness absence costs needs to be easily accessed, not least to ensure there remains a focus on effectively managing sickness absence rates.”