Recent statistics show a fall in sickness absences during 2020, despite Covid. Homeworking could be a big part of the reason and many people are noticing.
In early March the Office for National Statistics published figures on sickness absence in the UK labour market in 2020. They make interesting reading. Despite Covid – which accounted for 14% of sickness absences – absence is down to a record low of 1.8% – down from 3.1% in 1995.
The ONS mentions some potential reasons: the high number of furloughed workers, social distancing reducing infection rates and the number of people who were shielding who were still able to work and who would be more likely to take sick leave.
The other big potential contributor to reduced sickness rates is homeworking. The ONS says: “[Homeworking], together with government asking people to social distance and self-isolate may have led to less exposure to germs and minimise some of the usual sickness absences. Homeworking could also allow people to work when they were a little unwell, they might not have travelled to a workplace to work but feel well enough to work from home.”
This is certainly my experience. I think I can count on one hand the number of days I have taken off sick in the last few years since working from home. I’m not even sure if I have had one full day off. Even when I’ve had norovirus or flu. This, of course, has its upsides and downsides. Maybe I should be resting more and letting my body recover. Usually, though, I’ve still had to do the school run so, if I can manage that, my thinking is that I can check a few work emails and avoid getting into an email logjam when I feel better.
The other aspect of this is that I don’t get all the office bugs that used to circulate frequently, particularly in winter. I’m still exposed to a lot of school bugs though and it will be interesting to see how the sickness figures correspond with the return to school. Then there’s the commuting-related illnesses. When I commuted regularly to work I used to get a terrible cough that would go on for weeks after a cold and kept me up all night. It only stopped when I was so weakened and exhausted that I was ready to collapse. Asthma inhalers made no difference. Moving outside London has made some difference, but the biggest has been working from home and not going on the tube every day.
I was speaking to a senior manager at an education company the other day. She has been working from home during the pandemic and had also noted the reduction in sick leave among her team and her own health improving. She said she would traditionally come down with something about two to three days into any holiday in the past as her body started to relax. It meant holidays were spent recovering from illness rather than relaxing and recharging. It seems a crazy, unhealthy way of living. No doubt, there will be big pressure to return to all of that in the next months with lots of negative stories about homeworking piling up. Of course, homeworking has its disadvantages. But ‘normal’ working is no bed of roses and many people I speak to have noticed the difference.