Recovery time: sickies on the rise in post-recession Britain

Does the recent rise in sick leave suggest British workers are a bit less worried about losing their jobs these days?

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
When UK sick days fell to a record low at the height of the recession, an obvious explanation presented itself: worried by the ever-present threat of redundancy, employees felt it was better to be at their desk with a sniffle than be wrapped up warm in bed (out of sight being out of mind, and all that). And if that was the case, the fact that sick days were up again to pre-recession levels last year - according to official figures released yesterday - suggests this threat seems much less imminent these days. Or perhaps we're just fed up of being on our best behaviour?

The Office for National Statistics reported that by the end of 2010, 2.5% of workers had taken at least one day off sick in the week leading up to the survey. That's about the same level as in 2008 - but it's a big jump from the first quarter of 2009, when the rate dropped to a record low of 2.1%. This even led some to suggest that a dangerous culture of 'presenteeism' was developing, when people were turning up to work even when they were sick as dogs.

However, the most popular reasons given for sickness absence don't exactly suggest that workers have finally started to succumb to debilitating conditions. The most common excuse was a cough or a cold, while back pain also featured prominently. So it does look as though employees are now more inclined to pull a sickie with a relatively minor complaint than they were during the worst of the recession. (Oh, and public sector workers were apparently more likely to call in sick than their counterparts in the private sector - we're saying nothing).

But while it's tempting to jump on even the vaguest sign of improving confidence in the job market, higher sickness rates are not really anything to shout about. In real terms, that equates to around 613,000 staff, or 2m sick days - which adds up to a lot of disruption and lost output for UK plc.

The good news is that sickness rates have been falling over the last decade. But there is still plenty more that employers can do to help their staff stay healthier and reduce absenteeism. Try these Ten Top Tips for a start...

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