What is the impact and cost of staff sickness in business?

We examine the cost and impact of staff sick leave for employers and how to avoid it.

Over the last two years, much attention has been paid to coronavirus and its disruption to businesses. Staff who contract the disease, or come into contact with those who have it, will be required to isolate for up to 10 days – which can cause havoc in the workplace through reduced productivity.

However, coronavirus is far from the only illness to impact workplaces. Sickness has been a long-term blight on businesses, especially in winter months where flu, cold and other infections can be rampant. In many cases, the workplace can be a habitat for these to spread among teams.

Woman sat at desk holding tissue over nose and mouth

Illness of any kind can have unfavourable consequences on workplaces, in the form of unplanned absences, interrupted productivity and increased pressure. On top of this, there can be financial implications. This means any employer should want to minimise the risk of staff illness – COVID or otherwise.

We explain the impact of staff sick leave for workplaces in more detail and what employers can do to minimise the risk.

The cost of staff sickness

A 2017 survey predicted that staff sick leave was costing the UK economy £77.5 billion per year. Further reports suggest that every employee takes an average of 6.4 days of sick leave, amounting to roughly £544 per person.

This means that every time an employee takes time off due to illness, it costs the business. Usually, this cost will be through reduced output and longer turnaround times for tasks, on top of administrative or HR costs associated with processing the absence. There may also be additional costs around arranging cover for absent roles.

Sickness can also cost employees themselves – for example, if the employer does not provide paid sick leave. This means both the business and individual may be impacted financially, even after the illness has passed.

Other implications of staff sickness

Beyond the financial impact, there are many other implications behind staff sickness.

The most significant is the effect on productivity when employees need to take time off. With staff unwell, it could result in incomplete tasks, missed deadlines and slower turnaround times. It also places more pressure on your other employees, causing them to potentially tackle larger workloads.

There may also be an administrative burden, especially if cover needs to be arranged or shift patterns moved to accommodate absent staff.

Man looking tired and unwell at desk

Even if staff still come into work while ill, there are still repercussions for workplaces. Coronavirus has highlighted the risk of infection among workforces, and this stands for other transmittable diseases. If just one person were to enter your business while ill, it could spread to others, increasing the likelihood of multiple staff absences at once and placing more strain on your business.

Staff who do continue to work while ill are also unlikely to be entirely focused. This could cause their quality of work to deteriorate or tasks to take longer, which could again cause disruption and cost employers through lost productivity.

With the winter months upon us and fears that the cold and flu season could be particularly bad this year, companies could soon be experiencing the financial and other implications of sick leave especially. Following a year when absences were down to a record low, this could be a shock to the system and leave many businesses feeling unprepared.

What can employers do?

With the risk that staff sickness can pose, employers will naturally want to do what they can to reduce the chance of illness among their workforce. While the pandemic has posed many challenges, one silver lining has been the relative lack of non-COVID related infections, such as flu and cold, due to lockdown measures. This can teach employers the need to be safe and hygienic at work to prevent transmission rates, both for coronavirus and beyond.

The first thing businesses should do is encourage unwell staff to remain at home where possible (even if they continue to work while home). This has proven essential in reducing the spread of coronavirus among workforces and could also help stop the spread of other infections and protect your team. By reducing disease, fewer staff members are likely to become ill, minimising any disruption.

Next, implement the adequate protocol. This may include spacing out workstations to minimise close proximity working, wearing masks around communal areas and encouraging hand hygiene compliance. Although these precautions were all linked to stopping the spread of coronavirus, continuing to utilise them can have a similar impact on other infections.

Woman coughing onto hand while ill in bed

It’s worth noting that data has proven staff trained in handwashing take 20% fewer sick days at work, showing the power of just this one measure. Therefore, you should make sure your team has access to handwashing facilities and consider using signage to remind them to clean their hands regularly. If your staff are on the move as part of their jobs or may not always have time to wash their hands, offering them hand sanitiser is another quick and effective way of killing germs and reducing the risk of sickness. It’s even possible to access solutions that actively encourage compliance by helping to form habits, such as the Orbel sanitiser.

Finally, ensure that the workplace is cleaned effectively, ideally at the end of each working day. Bacteria can survive on surfaces, including door handles, kitchen worktops, lift buttons, phones, printers, worktops, etc. The average desk hosts 10 million bacterial organisms alone. With so much potential for germs to be spread, regularly disinfecting surfaces is key to removing bacteria and protecting workers’ health.

By cleaning the workspace frequently, using appropriate products like disinfectants, you can successfully eliminate lingering germs, which in turn will reduce the risk of your employees catching any illness.


There is no denying that unexpected time off is unfavourable for employers and employees alike, especially when it results from illness. Often, it can result in long-term financial implications and bring the nuisance of missed deadlines, output delays, and reduced productivity.

It’s also true that the pandemic has taught us the importance of looking after our health and taking the appropriate measures to reduce infection. With the ongoing risk posed by COVID-19, alongside the long-term hassle of illness like cold and flu, employers must recognise how precautions like homeworking, hand hygiene, effective cleaning and distancing can reduce sickness in their business and improve occupational health.

By doing so, they can reduce the financial consequences while minimising disruption and ensuring smoother operations.

If you need support in creating a working environment where the risk of infection is reduced, we can help. We aim to enable employers to build resilient businesses where their staff feel protected and safe, including against coronavirus.

Our solutions, such as the innovative Orbel hand sanitiser, can enable you to manage the risk in your workplace and get the most from your employees.

Get in touch today to find out more.