Employees in the UK took an average 7.8 sick days over the past year, according to a study

London (AFP) - Sick leave in the UK has hit its highest rate in 15 years and is well above pre-pandemic levels, a study showed Tuesday.

Employees took an average 7.8 sick days over the past year, according to the study published by human resources association CIPD and medical services company Simplyhealth.

That was two days more than before the pandemic and marked the highest level since 2008, a CIPD spokesperson told AFP.

“Despite our research showing that most organisations are focusing on employee wellbeing, the considerable rise in absences across all sectors is a worry,” said Rachel Suff, senior employee wellbeing adviser at the CIPD.

The jump in sick leave is contributing to a tight labour market, with employers struggling to recruit or retain existing employees due to worker shortages accentuated by the pandemic and Brexit.

The study also finds that stress is one of the prevalent factors for both short- and long-term sick leave, with over 76 percent of managers reporting absences for this reason over the last year.

Short-term absences are dominated by minor illnesses (94 percent) and injuries (45 percent), with 39 percent due to mental health disorders, according to the survey of 6.5 million employees in 918 organisations.

Mental health issues topped the list for long-term absences (63 percent), followed by acute health conditions such as strokes and cancer.

Over a third of organisations reported that Covid-19 remained a major cause of short-term absence.

At the beginning of 2023, 2.6 million Britons of working age (6.1 percent of the total) were out of the workforce for health reasons, becoming the largest cohort among the economically inactive for the first time, state budget body OBR reported this summer.

Claudia Nicholls, chief customer officer at Simplyhealth, urged employers to take action to improve the health of their staff.

“Employers have a vital role to play in supporting them through workplace health and wellbeing services,” she said.

“Companies need to implement preventative health and wellbeing strategies that are supported by the most senior levels of leadership,” she added.