Despite the pandemic, the UK sickness absence rate has fallen to 1.8 per cent in 2020, the lowest recorded level since the data time series began in 1995, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The ONS says minor illness was the main reason for sickness absence in 2020. This includes coughs and colds, which have been the main reason for sickness absence in all the years it has been collecting data.
The total number of days lost because of sickness or injury and the number of days lost per worker both saw a significant fall in 2020. The data that feed into the total number of days lost and days lost per worker includes furloughed workers so some of this fall will be because fewer people are in work to be taking days off because of sickness or injury.
But the sickness absence rate is not affected by furloughed workers as it is derived as the total hours lost as a proportion of total hours worked. The ONS says since this measure is least impacted by the pandemic measures, it is the most appropriate measure to use for sickness absence analysis to ensure comparability over time.
The ONS says while coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has led to additional sickness absence, measures such as furloughing, social distancing, shielding and increased homeworking appear to have helped reduce other causes of absence, allowing the general downward trend to continue.
A high number of people in employment were on furlough during 2020; this means they were temporarily away from employment that they expected to return to. Furloughed employments, as reported in HM Revenue and Customs’s Coronavirus retention scheme statisticsincreased from the start of the scheme on 20 March to a peak of 8.9 million employments on 8 May 2020. The figures from 31 January 2020 show that the number of employments furloughed was 4.7 million.
The ONS says homeworking and social distancing may have led to less exposure to germs, minimising some of the usual sickness absences.
In April 2020, nearly half (47%) of people in employment did at least some of their work from home. Homeworking could also allow people to work when they were a little unwell, they might not have travelled to a workplace to work but feel well enough to work from home.