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Diving into absence data: latest ONS sickness rates announced

2 May 2023 7 min read

UK absence rates data

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has released the UK’s latest sickness absence rate for 2022.

The national absence rate for the nation has risen to 2.6%, an increase from 2021’s figure of 2.2%, and the highest it has been since 2004 (which was 2.7%).

UK absence rates

How does the data break down?

The UK absence rate

The overall sickness absence rate is the percentage of working days lost due to sickness or injury in the UK. The latest figure of 2.6% equates to an estimated 185.6 million working days lost, which is a record high. An average of 5.7 working days were lost per worker in 2022, compared with 4.6 days in 2021.

Reasons for absence

Occurrences of sickness absence are broken down into the top five reasons: minor illnesses, musculoskeletal problems, mental health conditions, respiratory problems and ‘other’.

The most common reason for sickness absence was minor illnesses, which accounted for 29.3% of all occurrences.

Mental health conditions are now the fifth most common reason for absence, accounting for 7.9% of all occurrences, having been overtaken by respiratory problems, which accounted for 8.2% of all occurrences. Since 2012, mental health conditions had consistently been the fourth most common reason for absence.

Breakdown by reason for absenceCOVID-19 does not have its own category, and from April 2020 interviewers were advised to log it as ‘other’, however it is believed that some people might have self-reported this under either ‘minor illnesses’ or ‘respiratory problems’, so there isn’t an accurate picture of how coronavirus has impacted the figures.

It is also important to note that during 2020 and 2021, various procedures and guidelines in place during the pandemic such as furloughing, shielding, working from home and social-distancing will have in all probability skewed the figures.

Absences by gender and age groups

Since records began in 1995, sickness absences have been consistently higher for women than for men. 2022 is no different, with the absence rate for women at 3.2% versus 2.2% for men.

Absence rates increased in all age groups for men, and all age groups for women except those aged 16-24 years old.

We covered the gender absence gap in our recent webinar, Addressing the Gender Gap in Workplace Absence, which you can watch on-demand. Joined by guest speakers Stephanie Reid, Menopause Specialist and Wellbeing Consultant, and Natalie Duvall, Culture Manager for Red Bull UK and Podcaster with Black Mums Upfront, we discussed possible reasons for the gender absence gap from female health to childcare, and what organisations can do to address it.

Part-time vs. full-time

The sickness absence rate for part-time workers has been consistently higher than for full-time workers. However, the data for 2022 shows that that gap has widened further, as the sickness absence rate was 3.7% for part-time workers and 2.4% for full-time workers.

Part time absence rate

The gap can be partially explained due to the fact that there is a higher number of women working part-time than men (who regularly have higher absence rates than men), and the types of jobs typically done part-time (which may be more likely to be carried out in person).

It is interesting to note that the number of part-time workers in the UK has risen dramatically since 2018 – up to 8 million – equivalent to 1 in 4 employees, so an increase in the absence gap between part-time and full-time is not that surprising.

Many people have turned to part-time work in recent years for one of several reasons, including:

 

  • The cost of living crisis and inflation means that a full-time day’s salary does not go as far as it used to, so many people are opting to work fewer hours whilst receiving enough money to get by. Added financial worries may be leading to higher levels of stress for many and more absences from work as a result.
  • The government’s recent aim to get early retirees back into work includes looking at workers who may be best-suited to part-time and flexible work
  • There is a growing trend in the number of people taking on two jobs, with estimates putting the number as high as 5.2 million workers. This could lead to an increased risk of burnout, as people may be feeling the pressure of managing two workloads and therefore taking more absences from work.

 

Public sector vs. private sector

The sickness absence rate for public sectors workers has been consistently higher than private sectors workers every year since records began. In 2022, the absence rates increased to 3.6% for the public sector, and 2.3% for the private sector.

There are few reasons to consider as to why sickness absences are higher in the public sector, including:

 

  • Public sectors workers are more likely to be paid for sickness absence than those in the private sector
  • The differences in types of jobs in the public sector include some that have a higher likelihoods of sickness than others (for example healthcare and schools)
  • The data only counts people as sick if they work fewer hours than they are contracted for, regardless of whether they make up those lost hours at another point during the week. Data is not collected on the number of lost hours that are made up, which can be common for private sectors workers who may be under more pressure to make up for any lost time.

 

Do you know how your organisation’s absence rate compares with the national average?

Do you know how sickness absences are affecting your organisation, which of your teams are experiencing higher levels of absence or how your company’s absence rate stacks up against the national average?

Knowing your organisation’s absence rate is a crucial metric when it comes to ensuring that your employees are happy, healthy and productive. The ability to delve into your people data will give managers the opportunity to take proactive steps to provide support to employees who may be taking more absence than usual.

Particular teams, departments or locations within your organisation may be experiencing higher levels of absence than others – perhaps due to the nature of their work or an issue with their workloads. There may be initiatives, practices or policies you can put in place to support those at risk.

In contrast, there may also be employees who haven’t taken any absence from work (either by way of holiday or because of sickness) for a long time and may be at risk of burnout.

Burnout has long been a topic of conversation which can negatively affect employees and deplete their productivity, and make them more likely to leave their roles. We recently collaborated with author and speaker Kelly Swingler to create our free eBook: 9 Ways to Support Your People Managers in Reducing Burnout.

How edays can help

Our configurable software helps you to streamline and automate your absence and leave processes, and reveal a tremendous amount of people data to give you unrivalled insight into absence trends within your organisation.

Our absence reporting tools let you create reports as frequently as needed (which you can schedule to run automatically), and absence and leave data can be broken down from your entire organisation, to different locations, teams and individuals, allowing you to highlight any issues or anomalies in the stats.

With edays, managing absence and leave for part-time and full-time workers, spread across multiple locations and even countries, is not a problem. And, with our People Insights feature, you can view and analyse absence data in visual, pre-built and easy-to-use dashboards which are ready to be shared with and presented to senior management and stakeholders whenever needed.

Want to learn more about how edays can provide full visibility of absence and leave in your organisation? Click here to book a personalised demo. 


Georgina at edays
Georgina
May 2, 2023

Georgina Mackintosh is an accomplished copywriter and marketing professional with a background that spans several industries. Her writing focuses on HR topics such as employee wellbeing, engagement and experience - as well as absence management best practice, how-to guides and news from the HR sector.