Britian’s workforce sickness epidemic shows no signs of slowing down. A new survey of HR professionals from British businesses reveals that a rising number of people taking sick leave is the biggest problem1 they’ve faced over the last twelve months.

This follows recent figures from the ONS that reveal that the number of people out of work on long-term sick has hit a record high of 2.83 million people. The majority of HR decision makers surveyed (70%) say they now feel a greater responsibility to look after their employees’ health due to longer waiting times that are defining the NHS crisis, noticing that employees are struggling to access NHS care (40%), with nearly six in ten (57%) companies who don’t offer health cover now considering it but worried about the expense.

The research conducted with a separate sample of 2,000 employees and 500 HR decision-makers by health plan provider Simplyhealth, reveals the healthcare (45%) and education sectors (43%) were the most likely to see rising sick days, followed by manufacturing (35%) employers. Interestingly, manufacturing businesses were far more likely to offer health plans (45%) and medical insurance (64%) to their staff, compared to employers in education and healthcare, who are more likely to only provide basic occupational health care – services such as an assessment of desk set up to reduce back pain and eye strain.

The research found that staff from across all industries took the most time off work for mental health and musculoskeletal issues (muscle and joint health) – 5.8 and 5.7 days respectively in the past year – and think their employer should take greater responsibility for their health at work (72%). The majority (52%) of employees say that if they had a form of health cover at work, they wouldn’t need to take so much leave because they could see a doctor sooner.

The negative impact of people being off sick is clear to not only individual’s health, but also the economy, with an estimated £150 billion lost to the economy each year from lost output to sick days. 81% of companies surveyed said poor employee health can decrease their company’s productivity.

The benefits of a new generation of low-cost health plans

The Association of British Insurers previously revealed that 14 million sick days were prevented in one year by employers providing health cover.

However, currently, only 60% of employees surveyed have access to health cover. Private Medical Insurance (PMI) costs are predicted to rise by 11.2% in the next year2, fuelling demand for a new generation of low-cost health plans which offer whole workforce access to everyday health support such as physio, mental health counselling and GP services with options to tailor services to the needs of each business. 81% of employers that do have a health plan in place would like to help employees avoid preventable health conditions.

Health plans also help with reducing the financial burden of recruitment by helping attract and retain staff. Of employees who do have access to a health plan, three in five (60%) say it is the most valuable benefit on offer to them and around half (52%) say this benefit is what attracted them to join their company. Nearly three-quarters (72%) say it incentivises them to stay with their current employer and 67% would be worried about changing jobs in case their new employer didn’t offer health cover. 82% would value health cover for quicker GP access.

Paul Schreier, CEO at leading health plan provider Simplyhealth, said:

We welcome the recent Government focus on increasing the provision of workplace health support, and it’s crucial that this continues so we can reverse the workplace sickness epidemic, along with protecting and sustaining the NHS so it can focus on more complex treatments.

Paul Schreier, CEO at leading health plan provider Simplyhealth

Joanne Swann, Content Manager, WorkWellPro
Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website

Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.