Winter wellness | Older workers more likely to call in sick than younger colleagues

Older workers more likely to call in sick than younger colleagues

New research has revealed that those aged between 50 and 64 are more likely to call in sick to work than any other age group.

The research, conducted by personal injury experts, analysed the Office for National Statistics’ sickness absence data from 2018 - 2022 to reveal which demographics are most likely to miss work, and identify the most common reasons for doing so.

Every year, the UK workforce loses on average 146.6 million days due to sickness, which equates to approximately 4.5 days per worker – or almost a full working week.

As January approaches, employers pay particular attention to absences as workers contend with flu season, as well as post-holiday blues and holiday-related illnesses.

The study found that workers aged between 50 and 64 lose more days at work than any other age group, with an average of 56.3 million total days lost per year. Per worker, this works out to approximately 6.1 lost days annually.

Interestingly, the 16 to 24 age group have only lost an estimated 10.2 million days per year – which is 65.2% lower than the average. This equals 2.7 days lost per worker each year.

With regards to gender, women were found to call in sick for 2.6% of their working days a year – which is a 49.4% increase compared to men.

As well as looking at who reports the highest rate of sick leave, the study also identified the main reasons workers call in sick – with minor illnesses like coughs and colds proving the main cause. An average of 33 million days is lost per year due to minor illnesses.

The data also found that 12% of the working days lost were due to mental health conditions such as stress, depression, and anxiety.

And some regions are more likely to call in sick than others, the data shows, with workers in the North-East reporting the highest sickness absence rate.

The region – which covers County Durham, Northumberland, Tyne-and-Wear, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, and Sunderland – loses an average of 5.1 days per worker annually. This equates to approximately 6.2 million days yearly - a 48% increase compared to 2018.

The East Midlands is second most likely to call in sick, with 4.9 days lost per worker annually. This equates to 11.4 million days lost each year, with the region comprising of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, and Rutland.

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Third is the Yorkshire and The Humberside with an annual average of 4.8 days lost per worker. This area includes Bradford, Calderdale, Doncaster, Hull, Leeds, North Lincolnshire, Sheffield, Wakefield and York. This equates to a loss of 12.5 million days each year.

Interestingly, workers in Wales took more days off than any other UK country. Wales loses approximately 5.9 days per worker each year, while Scotland (4.8), England (4.4), and Northern Ireland (4.4) lose considerably less.

Speaking on the findings, a spokesperson for said: “Sick days lost from work can have detrimental effects on both workers and the company. For employees, frequent absences due to illness can result in increased stress and workload upon return, negatively impacting their overall job satisfaction and well-being.

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“From the company's perspective, a reduction in workforce attendance can lead to productivity losses and delayed project timelines. Given the contagious nature of minor illnesses, it's no wonder they frequently lead to sick leave as they can spread quickly. Many are also left particularly vulnerable when commuting on public transport to work.”

With that said, the experts offer five strategies to maintain health during winter commutes:

  • Hand Hygiene: Carry a travel-size hand sanitiser and use it regularly, especially after touching surfaces on public transportation.

  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, which supports overall health and can help alleviate symptoms.

  • Boost Immunity: Maintain a balanced diet with a focus on fruits, vegetables, and immune-boosting foods.

  • Layer Clothing: Dress in layers to adjust to temperature changes during your commute, helping to prevent overheating or getting too cold.

  • Maintain Personal Space: Be mindful of personal space in crowded areas and maintain a safe distance from others to minimise exposure to germs.

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