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Workplace sickness soars to highest level in over a decade

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The average worker took an extra two days off sick in the past year compared with the period before Covid, according to a survey of employers.

The typical employee took 7.8 days off, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found, up from 5.8 per year pre-pandemic and unwinding the previous decade’s progress in reducing sick days.

The situation is most severe in the public sector, with the average state employee off sick for 10.6 days, equivalent to more than two working weeks.

Half of all employers said they have lost out because of workers suffering long Covid, while more than one-third said coronavirus is one of their top causes of short-term absences.

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This is down from two-thirds a year ago, but suggests the pandemic’s lingering effects remain a problem for bosses.

Ongoing effects on the workforce include self-isolation and quarantine shielding as staff take time away from their colleagues.

Rachel Suff at the CIPD said 43pc of employers have measures in place to support employee health and wellbeing in response to Covid.

She said: “A lot of people and organisations might have thought Covid is over, but it definitely is not.”

The biggest cause of short-term sickness is minor illnesses such as coughs, colds and stomach bugs, while almost half of businesses also reported musculoskeletal injuries as a major cause of staff taking time off.

Meanwhile, mental ill health was cited by two-thirds of employers as the biggest cause of long-term sickness.

Ms Suff said: “Mental ill-health has been a real issue for years, and that has been exacerbated for some people by the pandemic and all of the resultant challenges for people at home and at work. It has not just been the pandemic.

“We have had an economic crisis, we have got a really serious cost of living crisis, so there are a lot of pressures to bear on people and organisations.”

The Government is running a consultation on potential tax incentives to encourage employers to spend more money on occupational health, in the hope of keeping more people in work and supporting the economy.

Companies are currently short of staff with almost 1m job vacancies on offer.

At the same time 2.6m people of working age have dropped out of the workforce because of long-term sickness.

Another 180,000 are economically inactive, those neither in work nor looking for work, owing to temporary sickness, according to the Office for National Statistics.