UK businesses record a 55% increase in sick leave

by | Apr 14, 2024

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New analysis of over 1,700 businesses has revealed that the average business has seen a sharp rise in sick leave – with 55 percent more days lost in the last four years due to short and long-term illness.

The Sick Leave Report 2024, conducted by HR systems specialist Access PeopleHR, part of the Access Group, revealed that the average business reported 128 days of sick leave in 2023 – up 6 percent compared to 120 in 2022.

Certain industries have experienced higher rates of sickness leave than others – especially in real estate and the creative arts. Those working in real estate have seen sick days rise by 98 percent since 2019 – from an average of 47 per company, to 95.


And in the arts, entertainment and recreation industry, sickness rates have risen by 159 percent in the last three years, from an average of 15 per business per year, to 39.

The research suggests that those who are more customer-facing, and less office-based are likely to report the biggest growth in sickness absence, since they are less likely to rely on the ability to work remotely.

However, increased absence could also be a cause of deeper issues such as burnout, stress or a general rise in sickness, either industrially, or on an individual or company-by-company basis. This could be partly due to employees in the UK not using all their annual leave entitlement, with days of holiday taken dropping by 7.6% from 2022-2023, increasing the likelihood of burnout, stress, and sick leave taken as a result.


The industries that saw the biggest spike in sick leave in the last year:

  1. Real estate activities – 67%
  2. Recruitment – 16%
  3. Arts, entertainment and recreation – 13%
  4. Financial and insurance activities – 13%
  5. Agriculture, forestry and fishing – 11%
  6. NGO/Charity – 8%
  7. Professional, scientific and technical activities – 8%
  8. Manufacturing – 6%
  9. Wholesale and retail – 6%
  10. Transportation and storage – 0.4%

The industries that saw the biggest spike in the last four years:

  1. Arts, entertainment and recreation – 159%
  2. Real estate activities – 98%
  3. Manufacturing – 89%
  4. Electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply – 71%
  5. Transportation and storage – 70%
  6. Water supply; sewerage, waste management – 69%
  7. Financial and insurance activities – 67%
  8. NGO/Charity – 58%
  9. Agriculture, forestry and fishing – 44%
  10. Professional, scientific and technical activities – 39%

Administrative and support services have seen the biggest drop in sick leave over the last year – down by 76 percent.


Charles Butterworth, Managing Director of the People Division at The Access Group, comments on the research:

“This new report into the status of sick leave in the UK highlights the importance of a robust HR strategy for businesses when it comes to reducing sick leave. This could involve having clear policies and procedures, offering tangible support to those that appear to be taking excessive sick days and implementing a HR system to provide better absence management.

“The rise in industry wide absence over the last four years correlates with the continued return to in-person work into 2023, with the most common industries reporting growth in sick leave being less likely to work remotely – namely those in the arts, real estate and retail industries. 


“Although, a lack of exposure to illness during lockdown and periods of remote working could be the reason for more people getting sick in 2023 compared to pre-pandemic levels, along with a higher possibility of burnout since returning to full-time work. Regardless, it’s crucial that businesses are monitoring sick leave using HR software to identify recurring problems, take action and determine whether an attendance review is necessary.” 

You can find the full research here: 

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