Essential businesses hit by £6.5bn cost of lost working days due to Covid-19

Employee absences caused by the coronavirus pandemic have cost the economy more than £6.5 billion, new data from leading absence management system FirstCare has found.

As more employees tentatively begin to return to work, the data spotlights the impact the virus has had on essential businesses and organisations with key workers, such as the NHS and supermarkets. The retail sector has been the hardest hit, with absences for retail workers increasing by 54 per cent in Q1 2020 compared to this time last year.

Other industries that have been enormously impacted over the same time period include:

  • Charities and Care Groups – absence increase of 48 per cent
  • Transport – absence increase of 46 per cent
  • Education – absence increase of 33 per cent
  • NHS – absence increase of 27 per cent

UK councils’ employees, however, are getting to work in the fight against the virus with local authorities seeing the lowest increase in absence of any sector, at just 6 per cent.

Regional differences in COVID-19 related absences remain across the UK, and despite being initially hit the hardest by the outbreak, London has had a relatively low increase in absences in Q1 2020 compared to Q4 2019 at just 6 per cent. The North West on the other hand continues to struggle with the outbreak and has seen one of the largest rises in absence in the same period at 11 per cent.

All age groups have seen an increase in absence in Q1 year-on-year, but 30 – 40-year-olds have been impacted the most and account for 25 per cent of all absences. While women have recorded more absences than men overall in Q1 2020, there is an equal gender split for those calling in coronavirus related absences.

Mental wellbeing has also been noticeably impacted in Britain, and the coronavirus has taken the biggest toll on men’s mental health. FirstCare’s database shows that historically women call in more mental health sick days than men, but since the emergence of coronavirus this has shifted. Women have seen a reduction in mental health related absence in year-on-year statistics, whereas male mental health absences are up 15 per cent.


Ian Caminsky, Chief Executive Officer at FirstCare said:

“While many businesses have felt the financial burden of the pandemic from a slowing demand for goods and services, there has also been a massive cost for essential businesses and organisations with key workers who have been on the front line. Our data suggests that the combined cost of workforce absence related to coronavirus in the UK has been more than £6.5bn, equating to 49 million lost days of work.”

“From mental and physical illness to the care needs of a dependent, the coronavirus pandemic has caused unprecedented levels of workers calling in absences. An increase in testing will be vital in easing the burden, as our data shows that of all coronavirus related absences, less than 2 per cent of cases are confirmed as testing positive, while 93 per cent are self-quarantined or suspected and 6 per cent are caring for dependents.

“Given the new Government guidelines indicating that many businesses can start to open up again, we anticipate disruptions to continue and encourage businesses to prepare accordingly. It is heartening to see that so many businesses adopting innovative solutions to safeguard and support their employees, and we applaud those that are continuing to adapt during this difficult time.”