Farming industy has seen sick leave rise 44 per cent since 2019

Farming has more physical and outdoor work than other sectors

Farming has more physical and outdoor work than other sectors

Image: NFU

The agriculture sector has seen one of the biggest rises in sick leave over the past year of any industry, new analysis of over 1,700 businesses indicates.

The Sick Leave Report 2024, conducted by HR systems specialist Access PeopleHR, revealed that the average UK business reported 128 days of sick leave in 2023 - up six per cent compared to 2022, and up 55 per cent since 2019.

Overall, the number of sick leave days taken in the agriculture sector have soared by 11 per cent in the past year, from 230 days of sick leave in 2022 to 255 in 2023.

Access PeopleHR suggests that a reason for absences in the sector could be down to the work often being outdoors-based and physically demanding, leading to higher risk of injury and allergies.

The industry has also seen sickness leave rise substantially over the last four years, with a growth in absence of 44 per cent since 2019.

The research suggests that those who are more customer-facing, and less office-based are likely to report the biggest growth in sickness absence, since they are less likely to rely on the ability to work remotely.

However, Access PeopleHR added that increased absence could also be a cause of deeper issues such as burnout, stress or a general rise in sickness, either industrially, or on an individual or company-by-company basis.

This could be partly due to employees in the UK not using all their annual leave entitlement, with days of holiday taken dropping by 7.6 per cent from 2022-2023, increasing the likelihood of burnout, stress, and sick leave taken as a result.

The industries that saw the biggest spike in sick leave in the last year were real estate activities (a 67 per cent rise), recruitment (16 per cent), and arts, entertainment and recreation (13 per cent). Administrative and support services have seen the biggest drop in sick leave over the last year, down by 76 per cent.

Charles Butterworth, managing director of the People Division at The Access Group, said: “This new report into the status of sick leave in the UK highlights the importance of a robust HR strategy for businesses when it comes to reducing sick leave. This could involve having clear policies and procedures, offering tangible support to those that appear to be taking excessive sick days and implementing a HR system to provide better absence management.

“This growth of sick leave in the agriculture industry could be due to a number of factors, such as experiencing more burnout and long-term sickness since the increased return to office-based work in 2023, with the most common industries reporting growths in sick leave being less likely to work remotely - namely those in the arts, real estate and retail industries.”

“Although, a lack of exposure to illness during lockdown and periods of remote working could also be the reason for more people getting sick in 2023 compared to pre-pandemic levels. Regardless, it’s crucial that businesses are monitoring sick leave using HR software to identify recurring problems, take action and determine whether an attendance review is necessary.”