According to new research from XpertHR, the absence rate has fallen to its lowest level in 15 years – despite the global pandemic. 

New data from XpertHR, an online HR resource, shows that sickness absence in the UK fell to just 2.2 per cent over the last year (2020).

This is compared to the sickness absence rate of 2.7 per cent in the year prior and 2.5 per cent in 2018.

This translated to the average employee taking five sickness days off last year, compared to 6.4 days in 2019.

The research states it is likely that combined factors such as lockdown restrictions, the introduction of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and shielding could all be linked to the falling rate of absences.

The marked decrease in sickness absence rates among employees who were working from home may lead to a permanent divergence in the way organisations both measure and manage sickness absence going forward.

However, sectors which were unable to work from home during the pandemic were significantly more likely to report higher levels of sickness absence rates.

Manufacturing and production organisations were more likely to report an increase in sickness absence rates with almost over a third (38 per cent) doing so.

However, three-fifths (60 per cent) of private sector services organisations cited a decrease in absence rates, showing a clear divide between people who were more likely to be permitted to work from home and those who could not.

As such, public sector workers – the majority of whom were frontline workers and more likely to be exposed to COVID-19- saw the highest rate of sickness absence with this standing at 2.6 per cent.

Overall, the cost of sickness absence in 2020 stood at an average of £503 and a median of £390 per employee.

Noelle Murphy, senior HR practice editor at XpertHR, comments:

A fall in sickness absence is perhaps an unintended consequence of the restrictions put in place to mitigate COVID-19, but considering that a large portion of the workforce was working from home, isolating, or working with strict COVID-19 safety measures, it’s easy to understand this decline.

Working from home is set to continue to some extent in hybrid working arrangements, and with it, a new set of challenges for our HR community.  We know that adaptations for the post pandemic world will touch each point in the employment lifecycle and people management – how we measure and manage sickness absences is no exception. It’s vital that HR professionals arm themselves with the right tools, data, and guides to shift their approach for this new world, ensuring ongoing effective management of sickness absence and employee wellbeing.

*To gather these results, XpertHR received responses from 190 organisations, collectively employing 282,108 people. This survey was conducted in March and April 2021.





Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.