Rising Staff Sickness Rates Pile More Pressure on UK Firms

(Bloomberg) -- Britain’s labor shortages are being aggravated by rising levels of illness among existing staff, according to new research.

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GoodShape, which advises companies on employee health and wellbeing, found the share of working time lost to staff illness increased from 2.8% in 2019 to 4% in 2022. Absence rose among all age groups but was most pronounced among the over-50s.

UK firms are already struggling for staff as around 500,000 people have left the labor force and become “inactive” since the pandemic. Of those, around 350,000 are “long term sick.” Increased sickness rates among existing staff are making matters worse.

“There’s been an incline in absence rate – a leading indicator of employee wellbeing – across all age groups over the last decade,” said Alun Baker, chief executive of GoodShape. The British Chambers of Commerce last week said recruitment was one of the three biggest issues firms face.

Total weekly hours worked in the UK come to about 1.04 billion, according to the Office for National Statistics, 16 million hours fewer than at the start of 2020.

Goodshape found that absence rates have increased by at least a percentage point since the pandemic hit in all groups over the age of 20.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt will unveil plans to boost employment in the budget by targeting the inactive and ill.

GoodShape’s research was based on its proprietary database of workplace absences and workforce wellbeing covering more than 750,000 employee records.

“It’s crucial that businesses embrace a cultural shift towards better workforce wellbeing. Not all absence is inevitable,” Baker said.

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