MakeUk: Reasons Behind UK Rise in Absences and Turnover

Chris Brown, CEO at recognition, rewards and benefits platform Rippl ( Image Credit: Medium, Authority Magazine)
MakeUk report delves deep into the challenges surrounding rising absences and turnover in the UK manufacturing sector, offering critical advice

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, workplace health and wellbeing have become a more prominent concern. This, in addition to an increase in staff turnover and long-term sickness absence, has rendered employee health a critical part of the wider debate surrounding the labour market and manufacturing's future. 

MakeUk has contributed to this by releasing its ‘Health Wellbeing In Manufacturing Report’ which highlights the moves made by manufacturers to enhance employee wellbeing and the reasons behind the rise in absences and turnover.

MakeUK’s research highlights a promising move by UK manufacturers, away from ‘reactive’ models of health to ‘proactive’ or interdependent models which involve early-stage interventions.

The report reveals that the proportion of manufacturers spending between UK£10,000 and UK£50,000 per year on health and well-being has in under three years increased from a third to more than half.

Manufacturers are investing in technologies and processes to prevent accidents and injuries in the workplace, often going beyond strict requirements for regulatory compliance.

“MAKE UK’s latest report on wellbeing within UK manufacturing has revealed that 58% of manufacturers spend at least £10,000 on staff wellbeing each year,” said Chris Brown, CEO of recognition, rewards and benefits platform Rippl. 

“ It is a significant step seeing the manufacturing industry prioritising staff wellbeing by investing in workplace initiatives, however, the report also states that only 27% of these workers are using the perks on offer.” 

Manufacturers must continue to cultivate a culture of proactive risk management and wellness, as physical and mental ill health continue to be the driving factor in employee absences.

How Healthy Is The Manufacturing Industry?
  • In 2024, long-term sickness absence increased compared with 2023 and 2022.
  • Mental ill health is a significant driver of this increase, with nearly 40% of employers identifying this as the main cause of long-term sickness absence in their business.
  • In 2017, less than a quarter of manufacturers had found that stress and other mental ill health conditions had caused long-term absences from work.
  • Almost a third of manufacturers reported physical challenges like musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions as a main cause of long-term sickness absence.
  • While the proportion of MSK-related absences had decreased between 2009 and 2017, seven years ago it stood at 18%.
  • A small proportion of manufacturers (5.7%) report long-term absence caused by long COVID.

The report found that nearly one in five manufacturers have seen people leave work completely in the last 12 months due to physical ill health. However, employee ill health does not appear to be work-related, with only a small minority of manufacturers and their employees assigning the cause to work.

This is supported by the fact that a rise in work absences due to physical and mental illness is observable across UK industries.

What likely contributes to the increase in long-term sickness absence is the average age of manufacturing employees with 46% of employees in the UK being between 41 and 50 years old.

Age weakens the immune system and typically worsens the symptoms of various illnesses, with it also being more common for older individuals to suffer from MSK conditions. However, this doesn’t explain the rise in absences across UK industries. 

The impact of illness on absences is observable across all industries in the UK, with government policy seeking to address people identified as ‘economically inactive’ as a result of ill health.

As the manufacturing sector continues to struggle to recruit and retain talent, maximising the number of skilled individuals able to work is a shared goal.

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Advice For Policymakers

03: Continue government and industry partnerships to improve understanding of high-value health and wellbeing interventions.

The Government is introducing a voluntary framework to support business investment in health and wellbeing. Raising awareness of this and continuing to collaborate with industry to implement it is critical. 

MakeUk also recommends introducing tax relief on accredited leadership and management training programs, as they are essential to supporting workforce health and wellbeing.

By expanding existing tax relief manufacturers will be capable of investing more in the overall upskilling and retraining of the workforce.

02: Implement expanded tax relief on occupational health services

Expanded tax reliefs in occupational health were consulted on back in 2023.

MakeUk believes they need to be implemented now, to help those who are struggling due to illness to reenter the labour market and help address employer difficulties retaining staff. 

01: Offer a rebate for SMEs for statutory sick pay, which should be available from the first day of absence

Evidence indicates that the three-day qualifying period for SSP is leading to employees attending work despite illness to not lose pay.

This reduces productivity and increases the risk of longer sickness absence.

MakeUk recommends the government enable employees to access SSP from the first day of sickness, offering a rebate for small employers. 

Advice For Manufacturers

03: Prioritise wellbeing to enhance innovation and performance

Investing in employee wellbeing is both a moral responsibility and a strategic business move.

By prioritising employee wellbeing manufacturers can increase talent attraction, retention rates and overall market competitiveness whilst reducing turnover, absenteeism and healthcare costs.

02: Offer flexible working to empower employees' work-life balance

Flexible working arrangements accommodate diverse needs and preferences, fostering inclusivity and catering to the evolving demands of today's workforce.

01: Review your organisational culture and understand your responsibilities

While the sickness and poor mental health of staff are often out of your hands, how you respond to and preempt these things has a profound impact on your business culture and trajectory.

Manufacturers' senior leadership team must understand its responsibility to enforce workforce wellbeing and health, conducting regular wellbeing surveys of staff whilst agreeing to achievable and tangible goals. 

“This is worrying for employers,” said Chris Brown, CEO of recognition, rewards and benefits platform Rippl about the report. 

“They need to be tracking the impact and ROI of their wellbeing programme to understand its effectiveness. Companies should focus on adoption, engagement, and interaction, as well as broader metrics, like employee turnover rates for engaged and non-engaged users.

"This gives businesses a clear understanding of the success of each initiative and allows manufacturing companies to tailor their benefits programme to what their employees want most and need to be happy and productive.”

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