UK Absence at highest level in a decade

Yesterday, September 26th, The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) released its annual Health and Wellbeing at Work survey report. The survey, which was conducted in March and April 2023, showed the highest absence levels measured in the last decade with 7.8 days of sickness absence on average across all sectors and sizes of companies. All sectors have seen an increase in absence, although it must be noted that at the beginning of the decade prior, private sector services reported higher absence levels than today.


Not surprisingly, absence levels are higher than average in organisations with more than 1,000 employees (13.3 days on average in organisations with more than 5,000 employees). Following existing trends, absence levels are almost double in the public sector compared to the private sector (10.6 vs. 5.8 days per employee), but the more worrying aspect is that absence over 10 days has almost doubled from the 2020 report (research undertaken in late 2019 before the onset of Covid-19). 27% of the absences included in the report last more than 10 days, up from 14% in 2020.

In terms of dealing with absence, most organisations (97%) have some kind of system in place to monitor absence, and the effectiveness of wellbeing programmes is, to some extent, being measured in terms of absence levels (along with staff retention, employee engagement, and take up of employee assistance programmes).

Covid-19 is still affecting sickness absence with half of the respondents noting employees who are experiencing or have experienced long Covid (more than 12 weeks) symptoms over the past 12 months. This can also be seen from the fact that 43% of respondent organisations still have measures in place to help combat Covid-19. Conversely, 52% of organisations no longer have any measures in place.

Stress and mental health continue to be at the forefront of absence issues with 76% of all respondents noting their organisations have seen stress-related absences over the past year. This rises to 92% in organisations with more than 250 employees. Although workload or work volume is still the primary reason for stress-related absences, the second most cited reason has to do with management style, signalling a need for further education and development of managers at all levels.

This is also evident from the data surrounding how absence is handled. Short-term absence is primarily handled by line managers (according to 70% of respondents) and 61% of respondents state that line managers have the primary responsibility for handling long-term absence. Even if training line managers in handling absence appears in the top 10 most commonly used approaches to handling short-term absence, it only happens in 56% of respondent organisations. The numbers are not available for absence handling in relation to long absences. There is definitely room for improvement here to ensure a consistent application of the absence policy and to ensure early intervention.

Key points from Honeydew Health’s perspective on absence in the UK

  • Absence levels are at the HIGHEST measured point since before 2010.
  • As is always the case in these reports, absence levels are higher in large organisations and the public sector.
  • Root causes for long- and short-term absence remain the same as surveyed previously. Minor illnesses, musculoskeletal injuries and mental ill health comprise the top three reasons for short-term absence, whereas mental ill health, musculoskeletal injuries, acute medical conditions and stress are the key reasons for long-term (more than 4 weeks) absence.
  • Line management is given the responsibility for dealing with absence without adequate training and understanding of the key issues and how to best support employees.
  • ‘Presenteeism’ and ‘leaveism’ continue to be issues affecting the long-term mental and physical health of employees.
  • There is still a need for managing absence through four key measures:
    • A fit-for-purpose absence management policy
    • Good and consistent data collection and analysis
    • Training of line managers
    • A consistent application of the policy and ensuring early intervention to minimise the risk of long-term absences occurring.

Click here for an overview of the report on the CIPD website and to read the full report.

To find out more about how Honeydew Health can help your organisation manage absence; improve the effectiveness of well-being programmes; and create a happier, healthier and more productive workforce you can visit our website or contact us at