Over the past few years, we’ve seen a steady rise in the breadth and depth of health and wellbeing programmes in the workplace. Our attention is now not so ergonomic-centric, and instead many HR professionals are looking into how mental health affects our employees at work. But just how many days do we lose to employee absences per year?

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released its latest sickness absence in the labour market data, which looks in detail at the reasons workers have been absent in 2016.

The report shows that 137.3 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury in the UK last year, which is equivalent to 4.3 days per worker. This is the lowest recorded since the series began in 1993, when it was 7.2 days per worker.

Since 2003, there has been a general decline in the number of days lost to sickness absence, particularly during the economic downturn, although there were increases in 2014 and 2015.

Minor illnesses such as coughs and colds were the most common cause of absence in 2016, making up to a quarter (24.8 per cent) of the total days lost. This was followed by musculoskeletal problems (including back pain, neck and upper limb problems), making up 22.4 per cent.

After ‘other’ conditions, mental health issues (including stress, depression, anxiety and serious conditions) were the next most common reason for sickness absence, resulting in 15.8 million days lost (11.5 per cent).

The groups who experienced the highest rates of sickness absence were women, older workers, those with long-term health conditions and those working in the largest organisations (those with 500 or more employees).

Employees that work in the public sector and those aged 50 to 64 saw the greatest reduction in sickness absences.

Are you a HR professional who is interested in health and wellbeing at work? Why not attend our conference on the subject. Read more about our great line up of speakers here.





Rebecca joined the HRreview editorial team in January 2016. After graduating from the University of Sheffield Hallam in 2013 with a BA in English Literature, Rebecca has spent five years working in print and online journalism in Manchester and London. In the past she has been part of the editorial teams at Sleeper and Dezeen and has founded her own arts collective.