The most common reason for a sick day has nothing do with being ill

Worried, concerned and serious father talking on phone call, caring for sick son and taking temperature check on couch at home. Parent consulting with professional and taking care of son with fever
Working parents may be taking sick leave to look after their children, a new survey reveals. (Getty Images)

Taking a sick day off work is inevitable, as everyone gets sick sometimes. But a new survey has revealed that the most common reason for taking sick leave has nothing to do with personal illness at all.

The number one reason for taking sick leave was related to childcare issues - and this has increased by 183% in the last year, according to the Sick Leave Reasoning Report 2024, published by HR systems specialist Access People.

Sick leave rates in the UK have increased by 55% since 2019. Last year, a survey of employers by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) revealed that British workers took the most sick leave in more than a decade between 2022 and 2023.

The Covid pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis were pinpointed as major reasons for people taking ill health. However, the new research highlights difficulties faced by working parents, who are having to take sick leave to look after their children.

It comes after maternity discrimination charity Pregnant Then Screwed and Women in Data released figures showing that the number of parents getting into further debt to pay for childcare has increased by 30% from last year.

Photo of worried mother taking temperature of her little son who is lying in bed with fever. Mature brown hair mother checking the temperature of her ill 11 years old boy  with thermometer on a couch in the living room at home. Sick boy with thermometer laying in bed and mother hand taking temperature. Mother checking temperature of her sick son who has thermometer. Sick child with fever and illness in bed.
The UK has some of the highest childcare costs in the world. (Getty Images)

The UK has the second most expensive childcare system in the world, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The UK government has begun expanding free childcare for working parents, with the aim of giving 30 hours of free childcare during term time to all eligible pre-school children by September 2025.

However, a separate survey by HR platform Remote revealed earlier this week that more than two-thirds (70%) of working parents in the UK have left or are considering leaving their job because of the high cost of childcare.

Those who are unable to leave their job may be taking their statutory sick leave instead to take care of their children. But Access People, which is part of The Access Group, warned that this leaves them with less statutory sick leave to recover from personal illness when they may need it.

The second most common reason for sick leave given was employees suffering from urinary tract infections (UTI), which was cited by more than 50% of employees from 2022 to 2023.

UTIs are common, but affect women more than men due to a shorter urethra. According to Kidney Research UK, around half of all women in the UK have had a UTI.

The infection can cause symptoms like pain or a burning feeling while urinating, needing to urinate more often and more urgently than usual, and cloudy, dark or bloody urine. In extreme cases, a UTI can turn serious if it turns into a kidney infection, which must be treated immediately.

Cancer was the third most reported reason for sick leave, rising by 33%. However, the report points out that continued treatments may reflect the higher figure.

Sick leave for diabetes reasons has risen by 33% in the same period, as well as stomach problems (18%), headaches (16%), surgeries and operations (8%), earache (7%), and infection (5%).

Mental health was the 18th most reported reason for taking sick leave. Research by mental health charity Mind suggests that many workers are reluctant to use mental health as a reason for taking a sick day, and may hide behind other reasons like stomach upsets and illnesses of a loved one.

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