24 October 2013

UK workers spend a year off sick

The average person in Britain spends almost a year of their life off sick over the course of their career, new research claims.

The average person in Britain spends almost a year of their life off sick over the course of their career, research claims.

Over a 45-year period, the typical worker will take 360 days of sick leave, according to the National Sickness Report. This is the equivalent of missing almost a year and a half of work, as there are usually 252 working days in a year.

And the study claims a total of 131 million working days are lost in Britain each year – that's an average of eight days for every employee. Staff sickness has a negative impact on the productivity of a company, as well as staff morale, because people find themselves having to do more work to cover for absent colleagues.

It can also be bad news for the staff themselves, as one in three full-time workers in the UK only receive £86.70 a week in Statutory Sick Pay because the company they work for has no sickness policy.

The study quizzed 2,000 full-time workers, looking at their health and their attitude towards sickness. It suggests that stress and depression are the biggest causes of long-term absence from the workplace with workers taking an average of 81 days to recover.

As an employer, it can be frustrating when your employees keep calling in sick. You can’t stop staff becoming ill, but there are things you can do to try and reduce the number of absences. Perhaps look at incorporating the following points into your health and safety at work routines and procedures.

1.      Reduce stress

The demands of work and meeting targets can often be stressful. Consider your staff wellbeing and look to see if there are any ways stress can be avoided. Make sure they have someone friendly they can go to if they are feeling stressed, without feeling they will be judged in a negative way. Regular and informal staff meetings may help people to raise issues, helping to create a more pleasant work environment. It is better for staff to raise problems early, so you can come up with a remedy, than for them to struggle on by themselves and end up being signed off work with stress.

2.      Reward staff who don’t take time off

Incentives for staff who achieve 100% attendance at work may help to discourage people from taking unnecessary time off. But make sure this doesn’t make people who are genuinely unwell feel they need to try and come into work. Smaller incentives each month may be fairer than a larger annual incentive - and these don't have to be monetary to be of value.

3.      Encourage poorly staff to stay at home

This may sound counterproductive, but if you employees struggle into work when they are ill, they are likely to make themselves more unwell, meaning they end up being off for a longer period of time. Plus they could spread their germs to others, leading to large numbers of your workforce being absent at the same time.

Tell line managers to send staff home if they are obviously unwell and make sure people know they are not expected to try and work through a period of illness. If relevant, establish a flexible working protocol so that staff who feel unwell, but able to work, can do so from home if they need to. 

4.      Carry out regular risk assessments

Health and safety at work is vital. Make sure your staff are not in a work environment which is making them ill or putting them in danger. Ergonomic workspace assessments can make sure staff are working in a comfortable space. Things like backache and repetitive strain injury can be caused by the way employees work, so providing comfortable chairs and advice about how to use equipment in a healthy way can help reduce the risk of health problems in the longer term.