United Kingdom

Absenteeism more of an issue among UK staff than European counterparts

October 2018

UK employees are more likely to ‘pull a sickie’ than other European countries, new research has revealed.

The People Unboxed study by ADP (Automatic Data Processing) which looked at employee engagement, productivity and absenteeism across five different European countries including Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands and the UK found that 27 per cent of UK employees find it acceptable to falsely claim illness at work in comparison to the European average of 21 per cent.

Of those UK workers who were happy to call in sick, 85 per cent believed it was OK to do so several times a year. Over 80 per cent of the UK employees polled admitted not wanting to attend work at least once over the past year in comparison to 74 per cent of their European counterparts.

One fifth of UK employees said they had considered quitting their job ‘at least once a week’ while 40 per cent said they didn’t enjoy their job and didn’t enjoy going in.

“Levels of sickness absence can vary greatly between companies, industries and by size of organisation,” explained Charles Alberts, Head of Health Management at Aon. “Clearly not all absence is genuine, and the degree to which employees falsify their illness depends on various factors including how absences are managed (both at the front and back end), the culture of the organisation, flexible working policies that accommodate unplanned demands outside of work (such as child or elder care), the impact of the absence on business operations and as this survey indicates – employees’ engagement levels.”

Overall the research, which polled over 2,000 employees, found that UK staff are more dissatisfied with their jobs than employees from other European countries. 28 per cent of UK staff said they regularly didn’t feel like going to work compared to just 15 per cent in the Netherlands.

UK staff were also more tempted to quit their jobs – 19 per cent – in comparison to 9 per cent of staff in the Netherlands who felt the same.

Jeff Phipps, managing director at ADP UK said absenteeism was often linked to unhappy workers and called on business leaders to provide quality jobs which stimulated employees and gave them meaning so staff would feel more invested in their roles. “This will not only shift attitudes towards sick days but also improve overall employee retention. In such a period of political, economic and technological flux, businesses need to have a stable, consistent and engaged workforce. Employers have a vital role to play in reversing this worrying attitude,” he said.

Charles Alberts added, “Absence is a significant cost to businesses, but so is presenteeism – when people come to work whilst ill. It’s important to strike the right balance where employees should feel able to take time off when genuinely ill, but also know that policies and procedures are in place that will identify non-genuine absences.

“We recommend that employers have clearly documented and communicated absence policies and procedures in place, and that all absences are reported on the first day of absence either to the line manager or a specialist outsourced provider (or both). It’s also important that absences are consistently and accurately captured, that triggers are built in to flag any absences that require further support or investigation (such as repeated single-day absences), and that line managers conduct return to work interviews for all absences. This level of management is necessary to ensure optimal outcomes for both the employer and employee – offering enhanced support for employees when ill, and identifying non-genuine absences that need to be treated as a performance issue.”


Aon UK Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered in England and Wales. Registered number: 00210725. Registered Office: The Aon Centre, The Leadenhall Building, 122 Leadenhall Street, London EC3V 4AN.