Sick pay and the cost-of-living crisis

Worries over taking sick leave in the middle of the cost-of-living crisis has topped many surveys as the biggest concern for UK employees. It’s no surprise that paid sick leave is the top benefit UK employees look for in a role, especially after the last few years with the pandemic.

I’ve experienced this with one or two of my clients recently, where employees who know they are ill, want to come to work for fear of losing money or clocking up too many absences. It’s really tricky for employers to navigate!

The world has changed significantly over the last 2 years and especially around illness in the workplace, with many businesses encouraging employees to stay at home with any visible signs of illness. It’s this encouragement that is causing a conflict for those on squeezed incomes where the impact financially on taking sick pay, leaves them with significant worries.

More than 40% of staff on lower incomes have expressed a concern about taking time off due to financial concerns, and as such, would work through an illness more so than ever before. An additional worry was on the impact to their colleagues as staff shortages are creating higher workloads and pressure, which in turn impacts work-life balance and mental health. Presenteeism contributes to longer term burnout and should be discouraged.

As HR, it’s so important that we encourage people to feel comfortable enough to take time off when they are ill. One way might be to support our businesses to pay above SSP where possible (just 62% of UK employees receive this according to a recent CIPD survey).

It’s tricky when a lot of businesses are feeling the stretch too at the moment, I get it, it’s a very fine balance. However, it’s also an additional cost to the business if employees come to work ill, particularly if they have something contagious like COVID or norovirus which can be spread easily to others, resulting in other colleagues going off sick too, thus incurring even more cost to the business. It’s all about trying to have some balance.

Having a benefits package that offers both financial and emotional support, as well as space to recover from illness can prevent burnout and encourage a more balanced work-life balance. It might also create more loyalty and potentially reduce costs (if people are coming in ill and spreading illnesses), so it’s one to consider and I think HR can really help organisations to find something that works for them!