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Surge in Employee Absences and Mental Health Struggles Plague Companies
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A leading employment lawyer, Nick Hurley, has observed a concerning trend of a growing number of employees, particularly in sectors with lower wages and skills, simply not showing up to work. Hurley, who serves as the partner and head of employment at Charles Russell Speechlys, revealed that his firm has witnessed a more than threefold increase in businesses seeking advice on handling unexplained absences since the onset of the pandemic.

Rising Mental Health Issues and Apathy Among Younger Staff

The surge in unexplained absences is attributed to the prevalence of mental health issues, with conditions like depression and anxiety becoming more widespread, especially among the younger workforce. This issue is particularly acute in sectors such as retail and hospitality. Hurley points out that the growing preponderance of mental health issues contributes to a sense of apathy among staff, exacerbating the problem.

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Confidence in Finding Quick Alternatives Drives Increase

Hurley also notes that the increase in employees going AWOL is driven by workers feeling confident that they can easily find alternative employment, given the current high demand for labor in various sectors. The post-Covid shift to more permissive ways of working has provided a greater opportunity for employees to exploit the system for personal gain.

Economic Impact and Increased Costs for Employers

The surge in unexplained absences poses a challenge to companies already grappling with staff shortages. With the unemployment rate close to historical lows, the situation is further compounded. Employers are faced with significant costs as they seek legal advice on disciplinary options and arrange last-minute cover for absent employees.

Lack of Official Data, But Growing Concerns

Although no official data is collected on unexplained missed days, a 2022 survey of 158 companies employing over 300,000 staff revealed that one in three workplaces took formal disciplinary action over unauthorized absences since the pandemic. Additionally, companies are seeking more advice on dealing with mental health issues in the workplace than before the COVID era.

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Upskilling Trends: Gen Z Favors Classroom Learning

In a parallel development, a majority of U.S. workers are focusing on upskilling as AI transforms traditional work models. Gen Z, in particular, stands out for its inclination towards attending physical classes to acquire new skills. About 41% of the Gen Z workforce plans to attend in-person classes, a higher percentage than both Gen X and baby boomers, according to LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence survey.

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Desire for Classroom Interaction and In-Person Learning

Gen Z’s preference for in-person learning may stem from a desire to compensate for the lack of classroom interaction during lockdowns. The younger generation’s gravitation towards hybrid and in-person schedules aligns with their work preferences, seeking more face-to-face interaction to build networks in their early careers.

The Importance of Both Virtual and In-Person Upskilling

While the majority of workers across all generations are turning to online courses for upskilling, Dan Brodnitz, global head of content strategy for LinkedIn Learning, suggests a combination of virtual and in-person instruction. He emphasizes that this approach provides the flexibility of learning at one’s own pace online while allowing the application of complex concepts in a collaborative classroom setting.

Skills-Based Hiring and the Potential for Gen Z

Younger employees, especially Gen Z, stand to gain the most from upskilling initiatives. Skills-based hiring could significantly increase the talent pool of Gen Z workers, according to LinkedIn. Brodnitz emphasizes the importance of marketable skills, with over 50% of hirers using LinkedIn relying on skills data to select applicants for open roles.

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