Most UK employees with workplace-based roles have worked through illness at least once (or more) this year due to money worries, according to new research by HR software provider Ciphr into the impact of the continuing cost-of-living crisis.

The survey of 1,000 UK employees found that fear of losing wages has pushed two-thirds (64%) of those with in-person roles, compared to nearly two-fifths of remote and hybrid workers (38% and 38% respectively), to attend work when they were unwell because they could not afford not to.

Women based in their employer’s office or workplace appear more likely than their male counterparts to report having worked through illness in the last six months (68% of surveyed women that work in-person vs 58 percent of surveyed men that work in-person).

Meanwhile, those employed in retail and hospitality, are, at least statistically, the most likely to go to work when they are unwell because they cannot afford to take time off sick. Around four in five workplace-based employees in these two industries (81% and 78% respectively) admit to working through illness. Worryingly, well over half (60%) of in-person workers in healthcare and social assistance also do the same.

Survey respondents (by industry) that have worked through illness because of money worries in 2023:

  • Retail: 81% of in-person workers
  • Hotel and food service: 78%
  • IT and software: 70%
  • Wholesaling: 62%
  • Healthcare and social assistance: 60%
  • Manufacturing: 60%
  • Education: 58%
  • Government and public administration: 58%
  • Construction: 57%
  • Transportation and warehousing: 55%
  • Finance and insurance: 40%

How common is contractual sick pay?

The results suggest that many of the employees surveyed are not necessarily entitled to company or contractual sick pay, as that is often triggered from the first day of sick leave. They may have to rely on statutory sick pay (SSP) instead. For employees that work at organisations that only pay in line with SSP rules, they must be off work sick for three days unpaid before qualifying to receive any money, which likely adds to their financial strain.

More generally, Ciphr’s findings from its latest cost-of-living survey reveal that most people (regardless of where or how they work) are now being negatively impacted, in some way, by rising living costs in 2023.

Months of record inflation and soaring prices have caused many of those surveyed to experience stress (76% of all respondents), lose sleep (52%), and struggle to pay their bills or buy food (43%).

Faced with declining real incomes and mounting expenses, almost half (46%) of all respondents have taken on additional hours at work, one in five (19%) now has a second job for extra income, and one in three (34%) has been actively job hunting (a further one in six are also considering looking for a higher salaried role).

Claire Williams, chief people officer at Ciphr, says:

“Unfortunately, as these findings show, we’re still very much in the grip of an incredibly challenging cost-of-living crisis. I’m sure most employers are acutely aware of the continuing impact that rising living costs are having on their employees – and many will have already responded through increased pay or bonuses, and with wellbeing support or extra benefits.

“For many people, increases to their living costs doesn’t only mean a reduction in their disposable income, but it also affects their ability to keep on top of bills, pay for childcare, fill up the car with petrol, put the heating on, pay the rent or mortgage, or buy food. This can cause a huge amount of stress and anxiety, which can in turn impact health and wellbeing.

“It is concerning to see that more and more employees are feeling compelled to work when they may not be well enough to do so, due to the financial impact of taking time off. Some of these workers may not be entitled to statutory sick pay under the current SSP system, while others simply can’t afford to live on the current rates of SSP pay, or wait the qualifying time to get it. It’s something that’s in urgent need of reform, and employers may need to consider the moral stance they want to take on this, as part of their wider social responsibility.

“Above all, employers need to be mindful that everyone’s situation is different. Not everyone is being affected by the same financial pressures equally, and not everyone is coping with the stress of this situation in the same way.”






Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.