Average Sick Days in the UK – How To Maximise Attendance

Sick leave

In this article, we’ll look at the laws surrounding sick days in the UK and how many sick days per year you must allow as an employer. To end, we will showcase how to increase employee attendance in your organisation overall.

Key Facts

  • Employers can use the Bradford Factor to determine the level of disruption caused by a worker’s extended or repeated absences.

  • The average number of sick days workers used annually increased in 2021, likely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

  • Conducting return-to-work interviews can help you pinpoint the reason behind increased sick leave among your staff.

How Many Sick Days Are Allowed per Year in the UK?

The government doesn’t set a legal upper limit for the number of sick days an employee takes. If there is a limit, it is set by the organisation they work for. That amount varies from business to business, but many use the same factors to determine a limit. 

Lengthy absences, for example, may require a fit note. For more details read our article on long-term sick pay.

Average Number of Sick Days per Year in the UK

An estimated 149.3 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury in 2021. This averages out to 4.9 sick days used per worker. 

Generally, the average had been trending downward in previous years. 3.6 sick days were used per worker in 2020 and 4.4 in 2018. The use of sick days saw a sharp uptick in 2021 due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

How Do You Measure Sick Leave?

It’s important to be accommodating when an employee is sick, but any sick leave taken can disrupt the flow of work. Every business has an acceptable level of absenteeism before action needs to be taken, and the Bradford Factor can help you determine yours.

The Bradford Factor calculates the disruption caused by an employee’s sick leave days with the formula S2 x D = B. S is the total number of a worker’s absences, D is the number of days they'’re gone, and B is their Bradford score. 

The final result helps determine your next course of action. A score of 0 means no action is necessary, while a score of 600+ is grounds for dismissal. 

That said, the Bradford Factor is an imperfect mechanism when it comes to measuring the true impact of absences. While it may be a trigger or a signal, what should follow is a conversation with an employee to help get to the root of their absence.

Many UK small businesses or SMEs should consider an HR software to help them request, track and report on absences. They can help securely manage absences, while providing leading reporting that helps organisations make more informed decisions.

Review, approve and track absences from one place: Personio

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Seamless absence management that scales with your headcount. See how Personio can manage every type of leave for your organisation today.

How Can HR Maximise Employee Attendance?

Sick leave or other types of leaves, there are a few ways you can increase employee attendance for your organisation… 

1. Train Your Managers

A strained working relationship with a manager is a common reason why employees seek extended time off. Managers significantly influence the type of environment workers have to deal with while on the clock. A challenging one can cause stress and anxiety, which can contribute to employees taking sick days. Train managers to recognize these signs, understand their role in the level of absenteeism and the actions needed to mitigate it. 

2. Identify the Root Causes for Employee Absenteeism

Solving high employee absenteeism requires first identifying its source. Finding the cause will also help determine if you can solve the issue. For example, external factors like the pandemic sharply increased the number of sick days used per worker, making it difficult to control for. A strained working relationship with a manager can be controlled.

Learn more about Absence Management in this article.

3. Return to Work Interviews

Return to work interviews are meetings used to greet returning employees after a longer period of absence. They help create a welcoming atmosphere that eases workers back into their responsibilities. These meetings are used to understand why they’ve been off sick and find better ways to support them. 

A return to work meeting can also start dialogues that pinpoint problems within your organisation that cause employees undue stress or anxiety. 

4. Targeted Employee Assistance

Every employee has unique circumstances behind their absences, each requiring a different approach to mitigate or resolve. The solution to each employee’s absenteeism could require personalised help or further advice from a specialist. 

5. Encourage Use of Support Services

Many employees use their sick days to care for their mental health. If your company provides access to internal services that promote wellbeing with training or activity groups, remind employees of those resources. Their use can make staff better equipped to handle workplace stressors and reduce absenteeism.

Frequently Asked Questions About Employee Sick Days

Do You Get Sick Days in the UK?

You do get sick days in the UK. However, sick leave lasting for more than a week requires a fit note (or doctor’s note) as proof of illness. 

How Many Sick Days per Year Are Acceptable in the UK?

There’s no legal upper limit for the number of sick days an employee can take. Organisations can determine the amount of acceptable sick leave by using the Bradford Factor formula, S2 x D = B.

What Is the Average Number of Sick Days in the UK?

149.3 million sick days were used in the UK in 2021, measuring out to an average of 4.4 sick days used per worker. This is increased from the 3.6 sick days used per worker in 2020, likely due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Do You Have A Leave Management System?

The world of work is only becoming more complex. The last thing you should be worrying about is calculating holiday entitlements, tracking them or ensuring you are legally compliant. Allow us to help.

Personio is an all-in-one HR software that helps upgrade your people operations for now and the future. That includes a leave management software that can manage holiday requests, track every kind of leave (from emergencies to sicknesses and bank holidays) alongside all of your other core HR processes.

8,000+ customers in the UK and Europe trust us to help. Get in touch with one of our helpful HR experts today, or start your own free trial to give Personio a go right away.


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