Working at home leads to fewer staff calling in sick

Calling in sick

Sickness absence rates fell sharply last year despite the pandemic, according to new research.

The number of employees calling in sick dropped to the lowest rate for 15 years because of working from home, a report by XpertHR, an online HR resource, has found. On average, workers took only five days off for illnesses, down from 6.4 days in 2019.

Remote working, shielding and the furlough scheme were noted as potential reasons for the decrease and mitigating the levels of sickness as the country battled to stop the spread of Covid-19. The report suggested a need for businesses to change the way in which they measure and manage absences in future.

The public sector, home to many frontline workers who were more exposed to the virus, had the highest levels of sickness absence last year, with an average 2.8 per cent of working time lost per employee. Manufacturing and production organisations, in which face-to-face contact was maintained, also were more likely to report an increase in sickness absence rates, with almost 38 per cent doing so.

Twenty-three per cent of all private sector companies reported an increase, with 60 per cent reporting a decrease.

The analysis also put the cost of sickness absence last year at an average of £503 per employee, a fall from £544 per employee in 2019.

Noelle Murphy, at XpertHR, said the findings reflected an unexpected consequence of the pandemic. “Working from home is set to continue to some extent in hybrid working arrangements and with it a new set of challenges for our HR community,” she said.