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The Impact Of Long-term Sick Leave On Businesses And Employees

Running a business can be tough when employees need to take time off for long periods. A recent report by the CIPD shows that sickness absence is at its highest in over a decade. This blog will guide you through understanding the impact of long-term sick leave on both businesses and staff.

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How Long-Term Sick Leave Affects the UK Economy

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Long-term sick leave burdens employers and hampers productivity, impacting the UK economy. It results in financial strain on businesses due to lost work hours and the need for temporary replacements.

Financial burden on employers

Employers feel a big pinch in their wallets when workers take long sick leaves. They need to pay salaries or sick leave money even when their employees are not working. This makes things tough because there’s less money for other important stuff like growing the business or hiring more people.

Having fewer workers around also means less work gets done. The workplace loses its usual speed and efficiency, causing delays and possibly losing customers. Think of it like missing pieces in a machine; it just won’t run as well.

Next up, let’s delve into how lost productivity affects businesses further.

Lost productivity

Businesses face a big problem when workers take a long time off sick. Fewer people are at work to do the jobs. This means less work gets done every day. The 23rd annual CIPD Health and Wellbeing report found that sickness absence is higher than it has been in over ten years.

This shows how big the problem of lost productivity is.

Poor mental health, physical ailments, and work-related stress cause many of these absences. When employees are not at work because of these reasons, businesses struggle to keep up with their workloads.

Flexible working can help but isn’t always enough to solve the problem on its own.

Next, let’s look into what causes long-term sick leave.

Causes of Long-Term Sick Leave

Long-term sick leave arises from factors like poor mental health, physical health issues, and workplace stress. It impacts both businesses and employees.

Poor mental health

Poor mental health is a big reason why people take long sick leaves. It makes workers less productive and raises stress levels in businesses. The 23rd annual CIPD Health and Wellbeing at Work report found that more folks are off sick now than in over ten years because of it.

Mental health troubles like anxiety, depression, and occupational burnout stop many from working well. Employers need to help by offering things like employee assistance programmes.

Flexible work policies can help those struggling with these issues. Personal factors play a huge role in why someone might need to be away from work for a long time. By making changes such as allowing hybrid working or providing mentorship, companies can make a big difference.

They show they care about their employees’ wellbeing and support them through tough times.

Physical health issues

Physical health problems like back pain, heart disease, and arthritis pull many people away from work. These issues lead to long-term sick leave. Each year, countless employees suffer from these conditions.

They need time off to get better. Workplaces feel this absence because there’s less work being done. This situation also means businesses face higher costs since they still pay these workers while they’re off.

Work-related injuries and musculoskeletal disorders are big reasons for long-term absence too. Nurses and occupational therapists help people with these conditions recover. But recovery can take a long time.

During this period, employees can’t do their jobs as before. It slows down how much work gets done at their places of employment. This makes it hard for businesses to keep up with what they need to do.

Workplace stress

Workplace stress often leads to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. This stress can come from too much work, tight deadlines, or problems with coworkers. People who feel stressed at work might take more sick days.

This adds to the number of people not working because of illness. Work-related stress is a big reason why employees need long-term sick leave.

Employers try many ways to lower workplace stress. They offer support through employee assistance programmes and make changes in workload management. These steps help reduce the pressure on workers and can cut down on sick leave needed for mental health problems.

Now, let’s look at how addressing long-term sick leave involves a variety of strategies.

Addressing Long-Term Sick Leave

To address long-term sick leave, a multi-faceted approach is essential. This may involve implementing rehabilitation programs and making referrals to occupational health professionals.

Employee assistance programmes can also play a crucial role in providing support.

Multi-faceted approach

A multi-faceted approach tackles long-term sick leave by mixing different methods. Employers use rehabilitation programs to help employees bounce back. They also refer workers to occupational health experts for special advice.

Employee assistance programmes offer support for personal problems, like poor mental health or chronic illnesses, which often cause absenteeism.

This strategy requires teamwork. Line managers get training to handle sickness better. Companies make clear policies on absence and returning to work. Such efforts aim at keeping everyone healthy and cutting down the financial burden of long-term sick leave on businesses.

Rehabilitation comes next, providing a path back into work life for those who have been away due to illness or injury.

Rehabilitation programs

Rehabilitation programs are key in helping employees return to work after long-term sick leave. They focus on getting individuals back to their jobs safely and healthily.

  1. Rehab programs often involve healthcare professionals who create a tailored plan for each person. This might include physical therapy for those recovering from injuries or exercises for repetitive strain injuries.
  2. Mental health support is a crucial part of rehab, addressing issues like stress, depression, and anxiety. Therapists and counsellors offer techniques to manage these conditions.
  3. Occupational health referrals help assess the best way for someone to re-enter the workplace. They look at what adjustments might be necessary, considering disabilities or chronic health conditions.
  4. Training sessions on self-management teach employees how to look after their health at work. This includes managing pain, dealing with fatigue, and recognising early signs of mental health disorders.
  5. Employee assistance programmes provide additional support, such as advice on diet, exercise, and managing alcohol consumption. These programmes aim to improve overall wellbeing.
  6. Vocational rehabilitation focuses specifically on skills and training that employees might need after being away from work. It helps bridge any gaps in knowledge or ability due to absence.
  7. Return-to-work interviews conducted by trained managers play a part in easing employees back into their roles while respecting their employment rights under the Employment Rights Act 1996.
  8. Adjustments in the workplace are often necessary for those returning from long-term illness—things like ergonomic equipment for people with back problems or flexible working hours for those with family commitments.
    9 High-quality rehabilitation services can reduce the risk of presenteeism, where employees come to work but aren’t fully able to perform their duties due to illness.
  9. Regular review meetings ensure that the rehab program adapts as the employee’s needs change over time.

These programs aim not just at recovery but at sustaining employees’ ability to work efficiently and maintaining productivity levels within businesses despite health challenges faced by staff members.

Occupational health referrals

Occupational health referrals are essential for employee well-being and productivity. They provide employees with access to specialist medical advice and support. Here’s how occupational health referrals can benefit both businesses and employees:

  1. Ensuring employees receive appropriate medical attention for work-related health issues such as respiratory disorders, cardiovascular diseases, and autoimmune diseases.
  2. Supporting the management of long-term conditions like diabetes, cancers, and age-related conditions through tailored intervention strategies.
  3. Facilitating the implementation of reasonable adjustments in the workplace to accommodate employees with cognitive decline or physical disabilities.
  4. Helping to identify and address workplace stress factors contributing to mental health issues such as excessive alcohol consumption, loneliness, and work-related stress.
  5. Providing guidance on risk assessment and creating a healthier work environment to reduce the incidence of infectious diseases and tuberculosis.
  6. Collaborating with employers to develop remote working policies that promote work-life balance and reduce stress levels.
  7. Assisting in the reintegration of employees after long covid or extended sickness absence through phased return-to-work plans.

By utilising occupational health referrals effectively, businesses can mitigate the impact of long-term sick leave on their operations while supporting their employees’ well-being.

Employee assistance programmes

Employee assistance programmes provide crucial support for employees dealing with various challenges, including mental health issues and personal stress. These programmes offer professional counselling, financial advisory services, legal consultations, and resources to help manage work-life balance.

  1. Professional Counselling: Access to qualified counsellors who can provide confidential support for mental health challenges, workplace stress, or personal issues affecting job performance.
  2. Financial Advisory Services: Assistance with financial planning, budgeting, debt management, and coping with the financial implications of long-term sickness absence.
  3. Legal Consultations: Support in understanding employment rights, navigating sick leave policies, and addressing any unfair treatment or dismissal related to the illness.
  4. Work-Life Balance Resources: Providing tools and guidance on managing workload, setting boundaries, and accessing flexible working arrangements to accommodate health needs.
  5. Health and Wellbeing Workshops: Organising educational sessions on stress management techniques, resilience building, nutrition advice, and promoting a healthy lifestyle in the workplace.

These programmes are essential in maintaining employee wellbeing during long-term sick leave periods and fostering a supportive work environment that contributes to overall productivity and satisfaction.

Managing Long-Term Sick Leave as an SME

SMEs can effectively manage long-term sick leave by implementing proactive sickness management and providing line manager training. Clear sickness absence policies should be put in place along with HR tips for managing return-to-work interviews.

Proactive sickness management

  • Employers should foster a culture of proactive sickness management to mitigate the impact of long-term sick leave on businesses and employees.
  1. Provide regular health and well-being workshops to educate employees on stress management, healthy living, and mental health awareness.
  2. Encourage flexible working arrangements to support employees dealing with personal health issues or mental health concerns.
  3. Implement regular check-ins with sick employees to offer support, maintain communication, and facilitate their return-to-work plans.
  4. Train managers to identify early signs of stress or illness in staff and provide appropriate support and resources.
  5. Offer counselling services through employee assistance programmes to assist individuals struggling with work-related stress or personal challenges.

Line manager training

Line manager training is crucial in effectively managing long-term sick leave and supporting the return-to-work process. Here’s a detailed list of essential components for line manager training:

  1. Educate managers on recognising early signs of mental and physical health issues in employees to provide timely support.
  2. Provide training on conducting compassionate and respectful return-to-work interviews, understanding legal implications and employee rights.
  3. Empower managers with strategies for promoting a healthy work-life balance and creating a supportive work environment to prevent long-term sickness absence.
  4. Train managers to effectively communicate with absent employees, offering reassurance, maintaining contact, and facilitating a smooth transition back to work.
  5. Equip managers with knowledge about available resources such as employee assistance programmes, occupational health referrals, and rehabilitation programmes to aid the return-to-work process.

By strengthening the capabilities of line managers through comprehensive training, businesses can better navigate the complexities of long-term sick leave while fostering a supportive workplace culture.

HR tips for managing return-to-work interviews

Return-to-work interviews are crucial for managing long-term sick leave. These HR tips can help employers conduct effective return-to-work interviews:

  1. Prepare for the interview by reviewing the employee’s sickness record, taking into account any previous absence patterns.
  2. Create an open and supportive atmosphere during the interview to encourage honest communication.
  3. Discuss the reasons for the absence, including any underlying health issues or workplace concerns contributing to their sickness leave.
  4. Explore potential adjustments to support the employee upon their return, such as flexible working arrangements or additional training.

Employers must handle return-to-work interviews sensitively while addressing any barriers that may hinder a smooth transition back to work. This process is essential for creating a supportive and inclusive work environment conducive to employees’ well-being and productivity.

Managing Return-to-Work Interviews is essential as it helps in understanding employees’ needs and concerns better.

Implementing clear sickness absence policies

To effectively manage long-term sick leave, businesses can implement clear sickness absence policies. This helps in setting out expectations and procedures for both employers and employees. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Clear Communication: Ensure that the policy is clearly communicated to all employees, outlining reporting procedures and required documentation.
  2. Supportive Measures: Include provisions for supportive measures such as phased returns or flexible working arrangements.
  3. Return-to-Work Interviews: Formalise the process of conducting return-to-work interviews to understand the employee’s situation and any support needed.
  4. Monitoring Procedures: Establish clear guidelines for monitoring absenteeism and trigger points for additional support or intervention.
  5. Accessibility: Make sure that the policy is easily accessible to all staff, including those on sick leave, through company intranet systems or other means.

Implementing these clear sickness absence policies is vital in creating a supportive and structured environment when managing long-term sick leave within businesses.


The impact of long-term sick leave on businesses and employees is significant, with a financial burden on employers and reduced productivity. Mental health issues contribute heavily to this absenteeism, necessitating flexible working policies to address it.

Proper support and management are crucial in mitigating the impact of long-term sick leave on businesses and employees. It’s essential for businesses to adopt a multi-faceted approach, including rehabilitation programs and clear sickness absence policies, while also providing training for line managers in proactive sickness management.

Addressing these challenges effectively can improve the well-being of employees and the overall performance of businesses amidst long-term sick leave impacts.


1. What happens to a business when employees take long-term sick leave?

When employees are off work for a long time because they are sick, businesses can face problems. They might have to find new people to do the jobs or deal with less work getting done. This can make things hard for the company.

2. How does long-term sick leave affect workers?

Workers on long-term sick leave might worry about losing their job or how they will pay bills without enough sick pay. Being away from work for a long time can also make them feel stressed or left out.

3. Can taking too much time off for sickness lead to unfair dismissal?

Yes, if someone is away from work too much because of sickness, and it affects their job, they could lose their job unfairly. But companies must follow the rules in the contract of employment before making such decisions.

4. Why is it important for businesses to support employees who need long-term sick leave?

Supporting these employees shows goodwill and can help keep skilled workers in the company. It’s also good for morale among all staff and helps prevent stress-related illnesses.

5: Does having health insurance help if I’m on long-term sick leave?

Yes, health insurance can help by covering some costs while you’re not working due to illness or injury which means less worry about money during tough times.

6: What role do policymakers play in managing the impact of long-term sick leave on businesses and employees?

Policymakers can create laws that protect workers’ rights when they’re ill and support businesses in managing absences due to sickness effectively.