Last week, I explored trends in sickness absence workplace health and wellbeing at Inside Govt’s ‘Effectively Reducing Sickness Absence’ conference.

We all know that workplace health and wellbeing is fundamental to Good Work but what are the data showing us?

The positive story is that sickness absence in the UK has almost halved since 1993, falling from 7.2 to 4.1 days lost per worker[1]. We’ve seen a significant fall in physical work-related injuries in recent decades too.

But a number of perennial problems remain.  Musculoskeletal conditions have long been a primary cause of sickness absence, and that remains the case today, with 40% of sickness absence related to them.

Employers are becoming aware of the need to focus on mental health and wellbeing alongside physical health problems – approximately 300,000 people with a mental health problem leave the labour market each year[2]

We know that the demands of work have shifted substantially. Data from the Skills and Employment Survey shows us that recent years have seen significant increases in the proportion of High Strain jobs, where job-holders are especially prone to workplace stress[3].

Workplace adjustments, particularly around flexible working hours, can play a real role in addressing this.

We also know that levels of sickness absence vary widely among sectors of the economy, ranging from 1.5% in banking and finance to 1.9% in manufacturing and 2.5% in the public sector[4].

This suggests there could be merit in exploring sector based approaches to improving workplace wellbeing and reducing sickness absence. So we’ve set out to do just that through our new project, ‘Made Healthier North West’.

Over the coming months we’ll be working closely with leaders within the manufacturing industry to identify the particular challenges firms face in supporting workers to manage and improve their wellbeing.

For more information, contact Melanie Wilkes.


[1] WF analysis of ONS Labour Force Survey 2018.

[2] Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health and Social Care (2017) Work, health and disability green paper: data pack

[3] The Skills and Employment Survey 2017.

[4] WF analysis of ONS Labour Force Survey 2018.

About the author

Melanie Wilkes

Policy Advisor at the Work Foundation