The latest data from XpertHR reveals sickness absence rates climbed to 3.1% in 2021, the highest level since 2009. This translates to an average 7.3 sick days a year per employee, costing employers an average £781 each.

During the pandemic, absence rates dropped to 2.2%. This was because homeworking, shielding and employees placed on furlough mitigated the spread of sickness. Many of these mitigating measures were lifted in the second half of 2021, contributing to the much higher absence rate recorded in the latest survey.

The impact of these measures is reflected in absence rates by industry. In the private sector where remote working was more viable, for example at finance and information/communication organisations, the sickness absence rate was 3%. On the other hand, in public facing roles where employees were unable to work remotely, such as retail and wholesale, absence rates were higher at 3.3%. In the public sector, rates were even higher at 4.4%.

More than four in 10 (43%) UK employers felt sickness absence rates at their organisation were too high. XpertHR say data is crucial in effectively managing sickness absence, but two thirds (67%) of HR professionals report to feeling unable to gather such information.

Noelle Murphy, Senior HR Practice Editor at XpertHR, comments:

“High absence rates can have a huge impact on the functioning of a business. It can leave companies under-staffed, often piling on the pressure on those employees who are present which in and of itself is very unhealthy and unsustainable. We also know that proactively managing sickness absence can drive down rates of absenteeism. The starting point for this is accurate and robust data. Collecting data will prove useful for identifying trends and helping HR departments manage sickness absence, but many HR professionals have expressed difficulty in doing this.

“Over the past five years our research has consistently shown us that many HR professionals are not able to gather sufficient levels of meaningful data to measure HR performance within their organisation, including managing sickness absence.

“Just 54 of the 149 organisations surveyed were able to provide data on absence cost. This is an issue because, where HR departments can help control or reduce the often significant cost of sickness absence, they can demonstrate that they are making a strong strategic contribution to the organisation.

“Data for measuring sickness absence costs needs to be easily accessed, not least to ensure there remains a focus on effectively managing sickness absence rates.”

For further details on sickness absence rates from XpertHR, tune into the latest episode of its podcast which outlines how employers can manage sickness absence in a hybrid setting: