Prior to the pandemic, the average number of sick days taken in the UK was just 5.8. In the last year, this number has jumped to 7.8. That’s a 35% jump, which is no small impact on wellbeing and mental health. New research from the CIPD in partnership with Simplyhealth, a healthcare company that provides outpatient support, further explores this phenomenon.
The study found that minor illnesses were the primary reason for short-term absences, followed by musculoskeletal injuries and mental health issues. Over a third of organisations cited COVID-19 as a significant cause of sick days. Long-term sick leave was often attributed to mental health problems, musculoskeletal injuries, cancer, and stroke.
One teacher, identified as Sally to remain anonymous, described her work environment as “toxic” due to high-pressure conditions. She noted that the stress became unmanageable and that colleagues were too overwhelmed to offer support.
Changes in working culture since the pandemic, coupled with the cost-of-living crisis, have left many employees feeling disengaged and stressed, according to the CIPD. Working from home has also posed challenges, particularly for those living alone or with limited social contact.
Key takeaway: Proactive care is the way forward
Public sector sick days were nearly double those in the private sector, with the NHS and other front-line roles experiencing additional pressures. While most organisations surveyed offered sick pay, only around half had strategies to improve staff wellbeing.
Dr. Audrey Tang, a psychologist and broadcaster, highlighted a “mismatch of understanding” at the top levels of organisations regarding employees’ needs. She emphasised that quick fixes like lunchtime yoga or ice cream vans were often insufficient solutions to address workplace wellbeing effectively.
The CIPD called on employers to take more proactive steps to manage workplace health issues and create an open, supportive culture where employees feel comfortable coming forward.
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