Workplace absenteeism has many causes but the two that affect the vast majority of cases are stress and injury, specifically musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) such as upper and lower limb problems and back disorders. Together, stress and MSDs make up the bulk of the estimated £100 billion a year the UK economy loses due to absenteeism. Looking at recent figures there are a couple of trends that seem to be emerging that could potentially increase the rate of ill health related work absence in the future, across many large employers.
Musculoskeletal disorders account for 34% of all days lost due to work-related ill health in the 2015/16 period in Great Britain, with an estimated total of 8.8 million days. Combined with the 45% accounted for by stress, this accounts for 79% of the causes of ill health related days off work. These figures have been broadly similar over the last 5 years or so for both stress and MSDs. (Health and Safety Executive, 2016a)
Stress is more prevalent in the public sector, health and social care, education, public administration and defence. Female employees are more likely to experience stress at work than male employees and medium and large companies have higher rates of worker stress than small companies. The main reasons behind the high stress levels are reported as high workload, organisational change and lack of managerial support. (Health and Safety Executive, 2016)
MSDs are a lot more common in industries that require a physical element to the job role, such as construction, agriculture, transport and storage, but also health and social care due mainly to patient handling. Both genders are broadly similar in the number of cases per year but the older age groups of 45-54 and 55+ are far more likely to experience time off work due to MSDs. (Health and Safety Executive, 2016)
Looking to the future there could be a confluence of factors that potentially raise the levels of work- related illness and therefore increase absenteeism and lower productivity. According to an April 2015 article in the Economist, two thirds of the increase in employment since 2010 has been among those aged 50 and over. The Office for National Statistics’ latest life expectancy figures are at 79.3 for males and 83 for females, with this rising to as high as 93.9 for males and 96.5 for females by 2039. There is a corresponding rise in retirement age. (Roper, J 2016 The HR Challenges of an Ageing Workforce)
So with a higher aged workforce that experience more MSDs than younger workers, and job vacancies in sectors that are notoriously high stress, social care for example, which has a growing workload to cope with the growing older population, now must surely be the time to properly invest in wellbeing and stress management saving us all money in the long run.
Find out more about how we can assist with absence caused by ill health with our corporate health and wellbeing programmes.
If you’d like advice and support to help you tackle work place absence caused by ill-health, contact us via our website or call us on 0800 170 1777. We’d be delighted to help you.