Boomers hit hardest by January blues

January is the prime time for staff burnout, and older workers are the most likely to struggle this month.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Employers are being warned to pay close attention to older worker absences this January, as research finds staff aged between 50 and 64 are the most likely to take sick leave.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), analysed by claims.co.uk, found that older workers are 125.9% more likely to call in sick than Gen Zers, throwing cold water on the stereotype that young people don’t work as hard as senior colleagues.

Winter bugs and cold temperatures might not be to blame. The report attributes a significant portion of absences to mental health struggles, with 12% of UK working days reportedly being lost due to burnout, stress, depression, and anxiety each year.

Sick of 2024 already?

Every year, the UK workforce loses on average 146.6 million days due to sickness, which equates to approximately 4.5 days per worker – or almost a full working week.

January is often the worst month, as employees deal with both the flu season and the holiday blues.

The study by claims.co.uk shows that workers aged between 50 and 64 lose more days at work than any other age bracket, with an average of 56.3 million total days lost per year. Per worker, this works out to approximately 6.1 lost days annually.

Interestingly, the 16 to 24 age group have only lost an estimated 10.2 million days per year – which is 65.2% lower than the average. This equals 2.7 days lost per worker each year.

Sick days sap productivity and fracture teams

Employees taking sick leave naturally leads to a drop in productivity, as fewer team members means less resources to complete their work. This can have a knock-on effect, as co-workers are forced to take on other people’s tasks, increasing their stress levels.

Having a high percentage of specifically older employees off work is detrimental in other ways. Senior staff absence also disrupts mentorship and knowledge transfer, impacting younger employees' development and succession planning.

If older workers are increasingly away from the desk, younger staff members will feel unsupported. Meanwhile, management tasks are more likely to fall by the wayside.

Could hybrid working = better health?

Implementing flexible work policies can improve overall employee wellbeing. Staff who work from home have been shown to experience better work-life balance and improved morale. This is especially true in winter as the days get shorter and commutes get colder.

Permitting ill staff to work from home will also reduce the risk of ‘presenteeism’ (where staff come into work even when they are sick) and prevent the spread of disease in the office.

Startups recently surveyed 546 businesses about their plans to introduce an alternative workplace model in 2024. The results show that 66% of firms plan to introduce a flexible work policy like remote working or even a four-day week this year.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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