What’s the craziest excuse you’ve heard for taking sick leave? Take a quick Google search and you’re sure to find some gems. National Sickie Day is right around the corner – the first Monday in February is statistically when most people will phone in sick to work.
Of course there will be plenty of genuine reasons for absence. At this time of year, cold and flu viruses are out in full force, and people can become run down after a long winter. Reduced daylight hours can also impact our minds; Seasonal Affective Disorder, where levels of serotonin and melatonin are imbalanced, is estimated to affect one in 15 people. Mental health can also be affected by money worries following Christmas.
But, the theory behind National Sickie day is that inflated absence numbers are down to people ‘pulling a sickie’. The important questions is, why would employees feel the need to do this? We think National Sickie Day highlights a greater problem that all employers should be working to address.
The cost of absence
Absence is expensive. By next year, sickness absence is predicted to cost the UK economy £21bn. And it’s costly for businesses too. The CIPD has been tracking levels of absence for a number of years. In their latest report, it was revealed that absence had increased from 6.3 days per employee, per year in 2016, to 6.6 days in 20181. Based on average weekly earnings, this could cost £726 per employee every year – consider how much of an impact this could have in your organisation.
Sickness absence doesn’t just affect the bottom line. It can also have negative impacts within the workforce. When someone is off sick, colleagues often have to pick up the slack. This increased workload pressure can affect their morale and productivity, and could increase stress levels, potentially leading to more time off work. It can be a vicious circle.
What causes absence?
The causes of absence are many and varied. Minor illness, such as colds or flu, stomach upsets, and headaches or migraines, is the most common cause of short-term absence in 81% of organisations1. Other causes of short-term absence include musculoskeletal injuries and stress1.
When it comes to long-term absence, mental ill health and stress rank more highly, but the most common cause is acute medical conditions like stroke, heart attack and cancer1. Perhaps the most striking absence related finding is that, in 2018, over half (56%) of organisations identified mental ill health as a top three cause of long-term absence1.
There are many practical initiatives that employers can put in place to help manage absence. Some popular methods include return to work interviews, providing leave for family circumstances, and changes to work patterns or environments1. However, these measures are mostly reactive. The most effective way to try and reduce and manage absence is to adopt a preventative approach to health and wellbeing.
The CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Well-being at Work 2018 report revealed that two fifths of organisations have a standalone wellbeing strategy in support of their wider organisation strategy1. When health and wellbeing becomes embedded into an organisation’s values and culture, employees become more aware of their health and will be naturally inclined to look after it. And it’s proven to work. Crucially, almost one third of businesses that had health and wellbeing activities in place, experienced lower sickness absence1.
But of course, there is only so much an employer can do. As individuals, we have to take responsibility for our own health; only then can we truly make changes that last. Educating employees about the importance of taking an active role in their wellbeing is critical. Communication is key here, to help employees understand why they should be proactively looking after their health, and what tools you can offer to support this.
Hopefully, your employees won’t experience the National Sickie Day effect. Rather, we hope that it will provide an opportunity for HR to reflect on absence in your organisation, and how you could improve it.
1. CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Well-being at Work 2018 report