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This week in HR: Record absences, AI safety and the skills passport

By Nick Wilson | |6 minute read

In this week’s round-up of HR news, sick days have hit record highs, prompting the need to address mental wellbeing. Meanwhile, AI is being used to improve work safety and details on the “skills passport” have been released, which aims to boost candidate potential.

Workplace absences hit a 10-year high

According to a recent report by the CIPD and Simplyhealth, the past year has seen a “marked increase in sickness absence” in the UK.


Employees took an average of 7.8 sick days in the past year, two days more than 2019’s average of 5.8.

The time lost to sick leave over the past year is the equivalent of 3.4 per cent of the working year.

Even more shocking, the number of organisations reporting average absence levels of 10 days or more has nearly doubled since 2020.

In accounting for the increase in sick days as compared with recent years, Rachel Suff, senior policy adviser in employment relations at CIPD, said: “First, in 2019, there was no pandemic. Since then, external events such as COVID-19, economic turmoil, the UK’s cost-of-living crisis and war have had far-reaching impacts on people’s wellbeing.”

Though mental health continues to be a major contributor to workplace absences, the report unearthed a surprising trend it dubbed the “workplace wellbeing paradox”.

The paradox is that mental health problems are on the rise among employees despite the increasing adoption of workplace health and safety services.

However, the report suggested, this does not give license to business leaders to abandon their workplace health and safety services. Rather, the paradox tells us that our strategies need updating.

“Companies need to develop systemic and preventative health and wellbeing strategies that are supported by the most senior levels of leadership,” said Claudia Nicholls, chief customer officer at Simplyhealth.

AI is making work safer

SHRM wrote an article on a National Safety Council (NSC) report that pointed to three new technologies that are playing an increasingly important role in preventing workplace injury, illness and death, namely:

1. Natural language processing

Put simply, new technologies are being used to analyse, synthesise, and clarify the often overly complex workplace reading and visual materials around safety guidelines and reporting.

2. Computer vision technology

Companies are implanting technology that monitors video footage and images in the workplace to detect health and safety risks.

“It includes things like automated alerts for equipment malfunctions, understanding if someone is wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment or even identifying actions that can lead to workplace violence,” Sarah Ischer, a senior program manager at NSC, told SHRM.

Innovation of this kind always raises eyebrows among workers concerned about potential privacy breaches. As noted by Ms Ischer, “Employers should be upfront with employees about what data they’ll be collecting with these tools and how they intend to use it.”

3. Predictive and prescriptive analytics engines

Thirdly, artificial intelligence (AI) is being used to help review data on historical workplace safety incidents and to make prescriptions for improvements based on the data.

“Cost can be a barrier for some organisations, but it does depend on what a company needs, its workplace safety objectives and what it already has in place,” Ms Ischer said.

Many of these technologies are publicly available, and where cost is a concern, smaller businesses can determine their needs and customise their set-up accordingly.

Skills passport could improve trust between employers and employees

The federal government, in its Working Future: The Australian Government’s White Paper on Jobs and Opportunities, said it has set aside $9.1 million to assess the case for a national skills passport.

According to research conducted by The Conversation: “Digital transparency initiatives of this sort can help overcome information and trust gaps between employers and employees.”

The passport will verify the relevant qualifications of employees in a “standardised, unbiased manner” to reduce incidents of fake or wrongful claims around certification.

By bundling all potentially relevant qualifications onto one platform, the passport could benefit employers in assessing candidates and employees in best supporting their candidacy.

“Not only does it help people get jobs, it helps them plan how to further their skills,” The Conversation said.



The practice of actively seeking, locating, and employing people for a certain position or career in a corporation is known as recruitment.

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson is a journalist with HR Leader. With a background in environmental law and communications consultancy, Nick has a passion for language and fact-driven storytelling.