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Leading Cause of Staff Absences in 2021 May Surprise You
Leading Cause of Staff Absences in 2021 May Surprise You

1 Mar 2022

Leading Cause of Staff Absences in 2021 May Surprise You

Throughout the pandemic, many employees have been forced to take time off work. Whether their job requires them to be in their workplace and they’ve had to isolate at home, or they’ve been unfortunate enough to feel the full force of COVID and were therefore unable to work, it’s been a difficult few years for companies dealing with staff sickness and workplace absences.

And with COVID still being the most talked about virus across the globe, it’s easy to forget about other illnesses and seasonal bugs like norovirus, colds, and flu that are constantly doing the rounds, as well as food poisoning, migraines, accidents and injuries, and long-term conditions that all contribute to large numbers of employee absences from work.


Leading Cause of Employee Sickness in 2021 Wasn’t COVID

But in 2021, the leading cause for employee’s taking sick days was in fact none of the above. Mental health issues were the primary reason for staff needing to take time off of work, according to a report from GoodShape.  A staggering 19% of all lost working time in 2021 was down to poor mental health across all sectors.

We know that during the pandemic, mental health issues such as anxiety and depression increased, with limited social interaction and much more time spent alone considered the leading factors in this. We also know that employees expect more from their companies in terms of mental health knowledge, support and resources, and that generally, companies are providing a better environment and more tools to ensure the overall wellness and good mental health of their staff. But based on the data, there’s still a lot of work to be done.


Other Causes of Staff Absence

Another leading cause of employee sickness in 2021 was musculoskeletal disorder. In the UK alone, more than 9.6 million adults suffer with the condition, and it accounts for 25% of surgical interventions performed by the NHS. Musculoskeletal Disorder (or MSD) is a condition that affects the joints, bones and muscles in the back and affects up to 1 in 4 of the adult population in the UK. Causes of MSD include heavy lifting, repetitive tasks, working with display screen equipment, such as laptops or tablets, working with power tools for a sustained period and driving heavy vehicles. A poor work environment i.e. lack of space, incorrect equipment or no time to take breaks or move around, can hugely impact existing MSD symptoms or be the leading cause for a diagnosis.

The other top reasons for staff absence in 2021 included COVID, suspected COVID (before at-home testing was widely available) and gastrointestinal issues.


The Cost to Companies is Huge

There has been a huge spike in the cost to companies due to employee absence, with an increase of approximately £10 billion from 2019 – 2021, bringing the total to £43 billion per year. The same report by GoodShape states “The cost of these lost working days does not cover additional indirect costs such as hiring replacement staff, loss of business continuity, training and providing support to other staff, so the true cost is likely far higher.”


How Can You Help Your Staff?

So, what can companies do to try and reduce the time staff are taking off due to illness? With mental health issues being the number 1 reason for absences, companies can ensure they are doing all they can to support better mental health for their employees. Businesses have a responsibility to not only offer support and health benefits, but to make sure their staff know how to access everything that’s available to them, and that the benefits are valuable and in-line with the employee’s needs.

This also applies to musculoskeletal disorder. Some aspects of this condition are preventable, so making sure staff have the correct desk set up (in the office and at home), are using personal protective equipment when necessary, and are taking the time to stretch and move around are crucial to preventing chronic back pain and MSD. There are lots of resources out there that offer guidance around the prevention of MSD including the NHS website.


Health and Wellness are Key

Ensuring employee wellness is vital when it comes to managing staff illness. Doing everything you can as an employer to create a healthy culture, with emphasis on employee health and wellness and a good support system in place for those who need mental health advice and treatment, will undoubtedly lead to less team members having to take time off work.

Speed Medical can help with employee mental health and wellbeing through a panel of occupational health practitioners, counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, physiotherapists and MSK clinicians who can provide a whole range of services.

We will be there for your business, and every single staff member, throughout any medical journey. Whether a member of your team needs physiotherapy, help in returning to work, or help with their mental health, they can rely on us to ensure they get the best help possible, quickly, and in a place that’s convenient for them.

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