Research from Unum Prov-ident shows that almost 175 million working days are lost each year because of the three most common ailments – backache, depression and fatigue.
The firm says 21 per cent of people say they have taken time off due to these complaints in the last five years.
Unum says this adds up to 1.92 million employees collectively taking off 175 million working days, with many of these workers likely to be off for long periods of time.
The research shows that when looking at the seven most common non-infectious ailments – backache, fatigue, chest pains, stomach problems, depression and anxiety/stress – 9.6 million people have taken time off work.
Backache is the most common reason for taking time off while people suffering from depression took an average 36 days off in the past five years.
The research was carried out by Cardiff University and School of Psychology among about 1,000 people.
According to Unum Prov-ident, absence through sickness is increasing in the UK and is now costing employers around £11bn a year. The firm has entered into a five-year deal with the university to discover why people res-pond differently to the same illnesses, resulting in some people taking time off while others do not.
Unum Provident's group income protection scheme now pays for incapacitated employees for up to five years and provides access to rehabilitation services.
Customer care director Dr Peter Dewis says: “It is vital to understand why this problem is increasing and what can be done to tackle it.”