Long-term sickness absences reach record high

  • Leave and Absence
Absence due to sickness
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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(Last updated )

A new study published by insurer Zurich UK and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) reveals that the number of workers with long-term health conditions has increased by 27% in the last six years to a record high of 10.3 million.

These workers took a total of 112.5 million sick days in 2023, an increase of nearly 70% over the number in 2017.

This marks the third consecutive yearly increase in lost productivity, from an estimated £24.6 billion in 2021 and £30.7 billion in 2022 to £32.7 billion in 2023. If current trends continue, the report estimates, work absences due to long-term sickness will cost the economy £66.3 billion a year by 2030 in lost productivity.

The Cebr research reveals there has been a noticeable rise in the proportion of those in employment experiencing long-term health conditions. In 2017, these people accounted for 25.4% of those in employment and this has risen to 30.7% as of 2022.

Head of Market Engagement at Zurich, Peter Hamilton, said: “Work absences due to long-term sickness hurt the individual, the employer, and the wider economy. There are plenty of opportunities to bring the number of absences down — we’re simply not making the most of them.”

While Long Covid could be partly responsible for the rise, the research found the upwards trend was already present before the pandemic, suggesting other drivers are at play.

Long periods of absence can themselves create more complex medical issues, so that the original condition is often compounded by mental health struggles, anxiety, and general repercussions of being out of “normal life” for long periods of time.

OnePoll research commissioned by Zurich among 1000 employees (from a range of businesses) who have been on long-term sick in the last 12 months found that the biggest contributors are mental health issues (44%) and musculoskeletal problems (14%) such as back pain.

The next biggest contributors to people being off sick are respiratory conditions (7%) and gastrointestinal problems (7%).

Visit BrAInbox today where you can find answers to questions like Is there any case law on whether long Covid is a disability?

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