Sick Days

Is a sickie really a sickie? Why employees take unneeded sick days

While flicking through the news a few days ago, I came across an article that genuinely surprised me. I have copied it in below but before you go looking at it, let me explain. The article was about employees taking unnecessary sick days and the impact of this on business. The ‘sickie’ culture is an old one in the workplace and covers everything. From hung over employees who simply can’t face the workplace after a big night out, through to just taking a day for apparently no reason. It seems almost inconsequential in the big picture if an employee takes the occasional sneaky day off. But is it really an indicator of something more worrying?

We can at least understand the desire to ‘throw a sickie’ sometimes

I suppose we are all familiar with the first kind of day off I mentioned in the opening paragraph.  We are talking about the day where you wake up tired from a restless night, or because you overdid it the day before, the rain is hammering on the window, the wind is howling, you don’t have any urgent fires that need fighting at work, and overall you just don’t want to do the day. You hit the off button on the alarm, send a message about how you feel ill, pull up the duvet and go back to sleep. I have never had one, obviously, and I am sure you haven’t either, right? Well, that’s our story, and we are sticking to it! Seriously though, we all have days where we lack motivation. We can at least understand the desire to ‘throw a sickie’ sometimes. In fact, this understanding has led to the creation of the ‘duvet day’ in some companies – an acceptance of the stress of working that allows employees to take a few days a year as rest time from the pressure.

This is something else, something far more concerning

Duvet days are a nice idea, but the real concern is when the reason for the unexpected day off is due to an overwhelming need to be away from the workplace. This is something else, something far more concerning. If you look at the numbers from the research mentioned in the article, it all gets quite shocking. Extrapolating from the sample taken, the researchers suggest that around 8.6 million people took a day off because they found their job ‘too painful’ to go to. Even allowing for a margin of error when applying the data to the general population, that is a lot of people off sick without having an illness in the traditional sense of the word. The economic impact of this is not to be ignored. With some estimates being in the region of £900 million in lost revenue each year.

The fact that many of the people who take these days off report the reason as being that the work is ‘too painful’ because of workloads, interactions with colleagues and the culture within the company, is disturbing, to say the least. We all know the potential for increased efficiency that comes along with job satisfaction and a motivated workforce. If these figures are correct, then there is a problem still to be addressed at a national level. It is affecting the profitability and success of thousands of businesses.

The solution to this problem surely needs to start with recruitment

Just as worrying perhaps, is that the research suggested around 12 million people a year go to work when sick. Many of those who admitted they did this said it was due to not wanting to be judged by their co-workers or managers. Once at work, they spread their sickness to their colleagues, sometimes causing a wave of sick leave. Again, if this is an accurate reflection of the nation as a whole, then the cost of what is known as ‘presenteeism’ (coming into work when you should really stay at home sick) could be costing up to £77.5 billion a year according to research by the University of Cambridge and Vitality Health.

The solution to this problem surely needs to start with recruitment. The selection of confident and competent workers means they are much less likely to suffer from the stress of a lack of job satisfaction. A good team fit and the right skill set at the start of the employee journey may not prevent the occasional day off, but it seems very likely that will reduce them. Looking at the reasons given for the sickie phenomenon, and its binary opposite, the pressure to work when sick, it seems logical that if there is a long term engagement strategy accompanied by appropriate on boarding and recruitment process, then the employee is less likely to find themselves making the decision to take the day off. Add to this a culture where the team feels confident enough to take the time they need when sick and you have an environment that promotes well being and an engaged and productive workforce.

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