Over the past couple of years, hybrid working has become a prominent feature of our professional lives. With the advent of technology and the COVID-19 pandemic acting as a catalyst, the number of individuals working from home has surged. This paradigm shift has not only transformed our work environments but has also had a notable impact on sickness absence rates.
The traditional 9-to-5 office-based routine has given way to flexible work arrangements, including remote and hybrid working options. According to the ONS UK Labour Market Survey, prior to the pandemic, only around 5% of employees in the UK were working from home regularly. However, this figure skyrocketed to nearly 47% during the height of the pandemic.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) UK Sickness Absence in the UK Labour Market: 2022 survey reveals that sickness absence rates in the UK labour market have witnessed a noticeable uptick in recent years. Between 2019 and 2022, the overall rate rose from 1.9% to 2.6%. While this increase might seem modest, it represents a substantial jump considering the large workforce in the country.
One might assume that working from home would lead to a decrease in people needing to take time off work. After all, employees have the flexibility to work in a comfortable environment without the stress of commuting and exposure to germs in the workplace. However, the ONS survey indicates that the opposite has occurred.
Poor ergonomics and sedentary behaviour associated with remote and hybrid working have taken a toll on the absence rate due to musculoskeletal disorders. The survey found that the absence rate rose from 20.9 million days in 2020, to 23.4 million days in 2022, representing a 12% increase.
While working from home can offer flexibility, it also blurs the boundaries between work and personal life. Employees find it challenging to switch off from work, resulting in increased stress and burnout.
The transition to remote and hybrid working brought unexpected consequences to the workforce, and one such impact has been the increase in sickness absence. The ONS survey has shed light on the contributing factors, including heightened mental health issues and the lack of work-life balance.
As we navigate the evolving landscape of work, employers need to prioritize the well-being of their employees now more than ever. Implementing policies that support employees’ mental health, promoting work-life balance, and providing resources for seeking healthcare support can help mitigate the negative impact.
Ultimately, striking a balance between the benefits and challenges of remote work is crucial for organizations and employees alike. By addressing these challenges head-on, we can create a healthier and more sustainable work environment in the post-pandemic era.