A new Ulster University report sheds light on the escalating sickness absence rates in Northern Ireland over the past eight years, revealing a significant uptick in absences in 2022, reaching the highest recorded since 2015.

On average, workers took approximately six days off due to sickness. The sickness absence rate has surged from 1.9% in 2019 to 2.7% in 2022. Despite this increase, Northern Ireland maintains the second-lowest rate in the UK, trailing behind Wales and Scotland.

The report identifies the key reasons behind the lost days in 2022 across the UK, attributing 26% of absences to accidents, poisoning, infectious diseases, and skin disorders. Minor ailments like coughs, colds, and gastrointestinal illnesses accounted for nearly a quarter (24%) of the lost days.

Recommendations for Businesses and Policy Makers

The report presents several recommendations aimed at Northern Ireland businesses, managers, and policymakers:

  • Improving Management Knowledge: There’s a crucial need to enhance managerial understanding of supporting employee health and wellbeing at workplaces. This knowledge could alleviate absences linked to non-medical or work-related issues. It suggests management training on sickness absence, including awareness of available training provisions and legal rights, practical skills such as conducting return-to-work interviews, and developing interpersonal skills to handle challenging conversations effectively.
  • Establishing Sickness Absence Policies: Encouraging businesses of all sizes to create comprehensive sickness absence and wellbeing policies can ensure fair treatment for all employees. Clear policies will streamline the leave process, foster positive workplaces, and encourage individuals to invest in their health, potentially reducing the long-term burden on the NHS.
  • Recording Absences and Assessing Impact: Encouraging businesses to record absences can help gauge their impact internally and assess employee engagement levels. Tools like the Bradford Factor can initiate constructive conversations between managers and employees, enabling tailored solutions to reduce absences effectively.
  • Enhanced Data and Further Research: The report advocates for improved data on sickness absence, particularly in the private sector, to better understand and measure its impact. Further research tailored to Northern Ireland’s private sector can provide specific insights into productivity, training needs, and overall impacts, benefitting the economy and employee wellbeing.

Looking Ahead

The recommendations outlined in the report aim to foster a healthier and more productive work environment in Northern Ireland by addressing the growing concerns around sickness absence rates. Implementing these measures could contribute significantly to the overall wellbeing of employees while enhancing organisational productivity.