'Apathetic' employees skipping work

In today’s post-pandemic world, businesses are confronted with a stark reality: a significant rise in absenteeism fuelled by a combination of apathy and mental health issues among employees. To navigate this challenging landscape and foster organisational resilience, harnessing real-time data becomes imperative. By leveraging insights into employee well-being, businesses can proactively address these challenges, ensuring a healthier and more resilient workforce.

Read on to find out more…

In the wake of the pandemic, companies are grappling with a notable increase in the number of “apathetic” and mentally unwell employees failing to show up for work, according to leading employment lawyer Nick Hurley.

Charles Russell Speechlys, where Mr. Hurley serves as partner and head of employment, has witnessed a more than threefold surge in businesses seeking advice on how to address unexplained absences since the onset of the pandemic.

Hurley observed, “What we have noticed is in those sectors where perhaps wages and skills are a little lower, there is a definite increase in the number of employees who are just not showing up to work – and leaving the employer in the doo-doo, as it were.”

This spike is attributed to a “growing preponderance of mental health issues” and a “sense of apathy,” particularly prevalent among younger staff, with retail and hospitality industries being the hardest hit.

The widespread impact of conditions like depression and anxiety, exacerbated by the pandemic, has led to a surge in long-term sickness absences, reaching a record 2.8 million and contributing to Britain’s recent recession, as warned by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).


The current phenomenon is also fueled by a prevailing confidence among workers that they can easily secure alternative employment, given the persisting staff shortages in various sectors and the low unemployment rate at 3.8 percent.

Hurley highlighted, “Particularly in the restaurant sector, hospitality, wherever you go there seems to be signs up saying: ‘Staff wanted’.”

The shift to more “permissive ways of working” post-Covid has provided an opportunity for some employees to exploit their employers, resulting in unforeseen costs for businesses seeking legal advice on disciplinary measures and scrambling to arrange last-minute cover.

While there is no official data on unexplained missed days, a 2022 survey of 158 companies employing over 300,000 staff revealed that one in three workplaces had taken formal disciplinary action over unauthorized absences since the pandemic.


The rising challenge is not limited to physical health; companies are also seeking increased advice on handling mental health issues. Meriel Schindler, head of the employment team at Withers, noted a surge in employer inquiries about dealing with mental health issues in the workplace.

She said, “Employers are having to deal with things that they did not use to have to deal with, including really quite serious mental health issues.”

Despite having clauses in staff contracts for health reviews, the backlog in the NHS has made it challenging for employers to arrange appointments with occupational health therapists or psychiatrists, putting significant pressure on employers.

This trend coincides with a broader surge in ill-health since the Covid-19 pandemic, with sick days reaching their highest level in 18 years in 2022, according to ONS data.