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Engagement

Why business owners shouldn't turn a blind eye to a 'sickie'

Melissa Jones  |  09 June, 2017

The UK economy has lost £900 million due to workers throwing a sickie, with 7.5 million working days lost in the last 12 months alone due to 1 in 7 employees wrongfully claiming that they are sick says research conducted by breatheHR. Pulling a sickie is becoming such a norm that there is now a National Sickie Day (it’s the first Monday in February in case you were wondering!). But this is an unhealthy attitude towards sickness and employers have a part to play in preventing it from infecting their teams.

What is a sickie?

A sickie is a term usually used when someone claims that they’re sick when they aren’t. Generally this is used in the context of the workplace when someone is absent from work because of an illness when this isn’t true, they’d be ‘pulling a sickie’.

We all know that there are some days when your employees will wake up and just want to roll over because they couldn’t think of anything worse than having to be at work. And whilst the majority sip their morning coffee to feel human and fuel themselves for the day ahead, many workers are burying their heads under their duvets all the while trying to think of a credible excuse regarding their whereabouts to give to their employer.

National Sickie Day

So what is it about that fateful February Monday that makes it a prime day for calling in sick? Could it be that many are getting over (or still continuing) their drinking binge after partaking in dry January? The findings from the latest Sick Report by breatheHR shows that 21% of workers have pulled a sickie because of a hangover.

Apparently we also need more time in bed during the winter and we’re more likely to get ill, making it the perfect season to feign illness. In a study by The Fine Bedding Company, a staggering 69% of the country’s workforce said they would be tempted to make the most of the national sick day.

Sickies aren’t just for skivers

Whilst there are some that pull a sickie because they are hungover or want to start their weekend early (21% and 14% of respondents respectively), the research showed that nearly half (42%) of those that pulled a sickie did so to rest and another 19% have done so to avoid a stressful situation at work. And it appears that this isn’t happening in isolation, as those that pull a sickie tend to do so on average 3 times a year. All of these reasons for pulling a sickie should be a red flag to an employer and shouldn’t be something that they turn a blind eye to.

What employers can do about sickies

The celebration of a National Sickie Day and high number of employees admitting to feigning illness to get out of work makes it clear that sickies are becoming normalised in the UK’s working culture. In order to minimise the number of sickies in your business there are a few things that you can do, if you haven’t already!

Implement an absence policy

Don’t accept text messages or vague emails as acceptable ways for employees to report sickness. Put in place a process that both you, as an employer, and your employees should adhere to if a case of sickness arises - whether it is true or not. That way everything goes through the same procedure as per your sickness policy and is dealt with in the same way ensuring consistency and support for your staff. Hopefully resulting in a speedy return to work.

Record and measure sickness

There are a number of methods that you can use to record and measure absence. A number of small businesses use spreadsheets and keep a record of any return to work interviews, whereas others use absence management software to keep track of the absence data relating to their businesses. The important thing is to ensure that you are measuring and recording absence effectively so that you can pick up any trends to identify any recurring absences and help your staff with any potential issues they are having.

Engage your team

If your team is uninspired and unengaged, then it is likely they’ll find reasons not to come into work. Richard Cook, MD at marketing consultancy, Champion, says his focus is on ensuring his team stays engaged. “We make sure that colleagues enjoy their work, respect and support each other, and get acknowledgement, training and support. Work/life balance is kept under control and if someone works late or over a weekend, they are given off days in lieu. In return we want people who want to come to work. Who want to be part of the business and who are fully engaged.”

Open up communication

It is worrying to see that 19% of respondents have pulled a sickie in order to avoid a stressful situation at work. Communication is a key part of business success and you need to foster an environment where open communication is accepted. This number is easily preventable and it could be lowered if small businesses opened up clear lines of communication for their employees to be able to discuss situations.

Lead by example

Our plugged in, always on culture is leaving everyone in a bit of a conundrum on where the line is between work and life, if such a thing exists. Half of business owners questioned admitted that they have contacted an employee whilst on sick leave. Therefore, if you can set out your expectations for your workers when it comes to appropriate times to be working (whilst on sick leave shouldn’t be one of them), and adhere to them, it is likely that they will follow suit.

You’ll be lucky to completely stop sickies taking place in your company and they are certainly not something that you should ignore. Introducing a stricter policy for reporting sickness would be a good start and communicating your expectations will also go a long way. Something that you should also focus on is investing in your employee well-being scheme. “There is a strong commercial case for having a healthy and engaged workforce” says Jonathan Richards, CEO, breatheHR. “Having open lines of communication with your staff to understand any problems or pressures that they’re under could dramatically reduce the number of sickies.”

sick report 2017

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