3 things we can learn from sick leave benchmarks

Jan 15, 2024 | Blog

Pre-2020, it was pretty standard to be surrounded by sweaty, snotty people on the morning commute – everyone dragging themselves into work through fevers and fatigue, sneezes echoing through the office, without the sneezers becoming social pariahs.

Since the pandemic, it feels like things have changed – and the data supports this. We’ve seen this in our latest benchmarking research, and there’s three interesting things we’ve learnt… 

1. Sickness absences increased since the pandemic

Across industries in the UK, sickness absences rose to 2.6% – up from 1.9% in 2019, and gradually rising. In fact, there was a record number of days lost due to sick leave – despite the peak of the pandemic having passed. What we can’t be certain of is why: were people genuinely ill more, or were they more likely to call in sick when before they might have pushed through?

What we can learn: 

By comparing your own organisation’s sickness absences to the UK benchmark, you can understand whether there’s something occupational driving this within your teams – but crucially, you need to compare to your industry benchmark too. For example, Healthcare saw a 4.2% rate in 2022, with 1.3% for Engineering – so measuring against the UK average would be misleading.

2. People took less time off due to mental health

When we look at the reasons given for sickness absences, these shifted too – with mental health becoming the lowest driver across the UK, falling from 10.9% of absences pre-COVID-19 to just 7.9% in 2022. Defined as any absence relating to anxiety, stress, depression or serious mental health problems, this could seem surprising – especially given the growing awareness of mental health concerns

What we can learn: 

Don’t assume that this drop means ‘all is well’ when it comes to employees’ mental wellbeing – it could be a rise in job insecurity that’s causing employees to avoid self-opting for ‘mental health days’. 

But on the other hand, could this decrease be a benefit of the remote work revolution – as people have space to work through their tasks, without the pressure of going into the office? Crucially, it shows the importance of digging deeper in your own people metrics to get the full picture, and understand if there’s any risk factors you can address.

3. ‘High-skilled’ industries see less sick leave

From our benchmark research, we also saw that several industries had considerably lower sickness absence rates – namely high-skilled industries like Engineering, as mentioned above. 

Now this could, again, be explained as another knock-on effect of remote working – but given that industries like Law (which are primarily office-based) also show these low rates, there must be more at play. And as the ONS has noted, high-skilled industries generally see lower rates of absence due to sickness. 

What we can learn: 

There’s clearly a lot of factors that drive sickness absences, and understanding the specific context of your organisation – and even on the demographic or departmental level – is absolutely essential. What’s the nature of their work, what’s their socioeconomic situation, are they working remotely or not? Bear this all in mind.

Our free benchmarking tool helps you understand metrics like absence

To understand the reality of your organisation’s people metrics, there’s a few things we think are absolutely critical (and all of them can be found inside our benchmarking platform – which you can use for free!):

  • Industry benchmarks: by comparing your data to relevant industry-specific benchmarks, you can better understand your organisation – within the context of the quirks of your own sector, like working conditions or skill level.

  • Organisational benchmarks: within your organisation, different teams will show different metrics. Maybe a particular team dynamic or working location drives higher absences in one department, while others are thriving. You need the whole picture.

  • What’s driving metrics: when you’ve identified a specific issue, you need to know what’s driving it – and our tool does just that, identifying the specific characteristics you need to focus on, so you can make informed decisions.

Get all of this, and much more, by signing up to use our benchmarking tool – for free!


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Virgin Media case study: using our technology, Virgin Media discovered a big – and easily fixable – driver of sickness absence and attrition. Warmer uniforms for working outdoors! And the results were considerable: 

“We found above-median sickness absence and, by creating sickness absence champions, we literally halved that rate of attrition – it was a cost-saving of £1 million.” – Aggninder Dhillon | Head of People Transformation


Global organisation, or small start-up – you can see tangible results too. Want to understand and fix your people challenges? Just sign up – for free!


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