​Genuine sick days and duvet days, do they matter?

Have you called in sick this year? Do you think twice about staying off work if you’re unwell or have you been known to manufacture an excuse for a duvet day? Although duvet days have become a bit of a running joke in recent years, the UK workforce is tending to take far fewer sick days than some years ago. The most recent figures (2017) released by the Office for National Statistics show that UK workers take off an average of 4.1 days every year. Back in 1993, when the data was first collected, the average was 7.2 days – it’s a marked contrast.

The logical conclusion would suggest that we are all much healthier and more dedicated, more motivated at work. However, factor in the current economic climate, job uncertainty whilst Brexit rumbles on and fear of judgement in the workplace, and you’ll find plenty of workers struggling to their desks when they’d be better off in bed. Depending on one’s workplace culture, absenteeism can contribute to greater risk in terms of job security. Workplace surveys conducted by organisations such as the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development and Willis Towers Watson, one of the UK’s leading providers of employee healthcare and risk management services, all have a common thread – employers consistently report that many staff continue to come into work despite illness.

Genuine reasons for absence

Heavy colds, stomach upsets, headaches and migraines are commonly cited as reasons for short-term absence. Musculoskeletal conditions, such as back pain, neck strain and repetitive strain injury, are another – often work-related – reason, particularly amongst older age groups. And then, of course, there is mental health. Willis Towers Watson’s Global Benefits Attitudes Survey shows that mental health is becoming an ever greater cause of short-term absence: 29% of surveyed employees suffered with stress, anxiety and/or depression over a two-year period. Interestingly, and worryingly, mental health and stress issues are largely attributed to younger people, particularly millennials, and this would suggest that mental health will become a bigger problem in the future.

And what about those who bend the truth?

Throwing a sickie still happens, despite the overall reduction in average sick days taken. According to Willis Towers Watson’s Employee Health, Wellbeing and Benefits Barometer 2019, 16% of 2,000 employees who took part in that survey admitted to calling in sick at least once in the last 12 months, and 5% had done so several times during the same period – all for the same reason, a hangover. Not surprisingly, 51% didn’t come clean with their employer – one has to wonder how the other 49% fared! Maybe they just didn’t have the imagination of the others.

Some of the reasons given for absence are mind-boggling, here are 10 that made us chuckle!

  • My trousers ripped on the way in to work
  • My mother/father died (in some instances on more than one occasion!)
  • My hamster died
  • A can of baked beans fell from the shelf onto my toe and now I can’t walk
  • I can’t get out of my flat, the lock has broken
  • I’ve changed the solution I use for my contact lenses and my eyes are streaming
  • I hit my head on the side of the swimming pool
  • I hurt myself during sex
  • I couldn’t sleep last night
  • I’ve had an allergic reaction to an insect bite

One has to wonder why people just don’t keep it simple and use the age-old excuse of food poisoning – you can’t really argue with that one! The trouble with lying is that it can get you in deep water, especially if you forget that you’ve already used the death of a parent in the past. And a word of warning: these days, it’s easy to be found out. Many employers will take to social media to check up on their ‘sick’ employee, looking for posts that might indicate they’re not being honest.

Are sick days seasonal?

Summer sickies are quite common, with workers extending their weekends if the weather is warm. But January is also a popular month for duvet days, as is February. The latter is almost guaranteed to raise an eyebrow – February is one of the busiest months for job interviews, it’s a case of ‘new year new job’. Big sporting events throughout the year are also likely to have workers coming up with reasons to not be in the office, either to watch an important final on television or even jet off to watch a match, follow the Tour de France or to be track-side for the men’s 100m final. And then of course there are the times when the next big television series drops or someone gets caught up in a seven-series box set on catch-up!

The real cost of duvet days

Quite apart from the fact that repeat offences may result in an early P45, unplanned days off have a major impact on business – from the extra workload thrust on colleagues to the financial cost, especially in smaller companies. It’s estimated that the 131 million sick days per year cost the economy £1.9 billion, due to lost working hours, wages and overtime pay. It’s something to contemplate the next time you’re tempted to ignore the alarm or have planned a heavy night out!

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