January is the month with the highest number of sick days taken by employees in the UK, with coughs and colds, musculoskeletal problems and mental health issues being largely to blame.

Research from CharlieHR found that the number of employees taking sick days in January 2017 (1,248) was 53% higher than the average for the other 11 months of the year (816). The winter months are the most popular for sick days, with January being followed by February, with 1,114 sick days taken; and March, with 1,054.

A recent report by the Office for National Statistics suggests that the main causes for sick days in the UK in 2017 were minor illnesses – like coughs and colds. Musculoskeletal problems – such as back pain, neck and upper limb issues also featured highly on the list, as well as mental health issues such as stress, depression and anxiety.

James Routledge, Co-Founder of Sanctus, said employers could be doing more to tackle mental health issues. “The biggest thing companies can do is to create an environment where stress and mental health is talked about openly – that can be a huge relief in itself,” he said.

“You can’t stop or avoid people being physically ill, if people are ill, they’re ill. However, with a healthy company culture, you can create a workplace where people can still lead healthy balanced lives.

“There’s no quick fix but a long-term commitment to reasonable working hours, open dialogues on mental health and feelings, plus carved out time for physical exercise and a promotion of healthy eating can all make a huge difference to an individual’s overall health.”

And, Rob O’Donovan, Co-Founder and CEO of CharlieHR, said that when building and growing a company, focusing on people is the most important thing founders and managers can do.

“Our belief is that looking after your team doesn’t stop when they step foot out the office, but it’s the responsibility of all good employers to enable their people to build happy, healthy and fulfilling lives,” he said.

“It is perhaps of little surprise that illness is more common in the cold winter months, but it’s more alarming how few companies do anything about it.”

 “Ensuring team members take adequate rest during winter – and don’t use all their holiday up over summer – as well as providing time, space and encouragement for them to focus on their wellbeing are critical.”