One in three Brits have pulled a sickie – costing business £9bn a year, according to PwC research

Published at 00:01 AM on 02 July 2014

Sick days are costing UK business over £23bn a year, but a large proportion of the sick bill is preventable as one in three British workers admit to having pulled a ‘sickie’ – according to new research by PwC.

PwC’s research shows people lying or exaggerating to take time off work is costing UK business £9bn a year. As part of the research PwC surveyed over 2,000 UK adults and found that the most popular reasons for why people pulled a ‘sickie’ are hangovers (32%), to watch a sporting event (8%), being bored with your job (26%), interviews (26%) and Mondays (11%). One in 10 people said they have lied to take time off work due to good weather.

Illness is by far the most common excuse used, but the research has revealed that some employees go to very creative lengths to cover up why they are taking off unauthorised time from work. Some of the more unusual excuses from the research include: I was attacked by ants, my dog has eaten my keys, I got a rash from eating too many strawberries, and a male employee who told his boss that he had started the menopause.

PwC analysis of over 2,500 global companies shows that the UK’s overall sickness bill (including genuine and made-up illness) has fallen to £23bn from £29bn a year ago. But despite this positive trend, UK workers still take nearly triple the amount of sick days as their global counterparts in Asia Pacific (2.8 days) and nearly double the US (3.8 days). Central and Eastern Europe has the highest level of sick days at an average of 8.3 a year. Sick days still account for the majority of absence and make up 87% of the overall absence bill to UK business.

Most industries have reduced their sickness levels compared to a year ago apart from technology, chemicals and utilities companies. Retail and leisure, services sector and finance companies report the lowest levels of sickness.

Jon Andrews, head of human resources consulting at PwC, said:

“Despite overall levels of absence falling in the UK, this could be even lower if businesses actively address this issue. Sickies are costing business £9bn a year – much of which is avoidable.

“The combination of major sporting events such as the World Cup and Wimbledon may mean that the temptation to lie to take time off work to watch sport is too much for some. Companies could easily reduce the knock-on impact on their employees’ productivity levels by offering flexible working or allowing them to watch key matches in the office.

“Compared to our previous research in 2011, interviews now feature heavily as a reason to pull a sickie as the economic recovery is feeding through to a hotter job market.

“This should be a wake-up call for businesses, especially start-ups and SMEs – where absence can be particularly crippling.

“Our research shows that when it comes to reducing absence levels, carrot rather than stick is the best approach. Having a flexible working culture can go a long way to breaking the cycle of people feeling that they are entitled to days off outside of their holiday allowance and encouraging better employee engagement. The change in law that means anyone now has the right to request flexible working should help more people achieve the work/life balance they need without impacting on organisations’ productivity.

“Organisations need to get better at recording and monitoring absence patterns so they can pinpoint issues and tackle them. Team targets for projects should also encourage positive peer pressure and a sense of we’re in it together. Too many organisations are blindly unaware of how much absence is costing their bottom line.”

A flexible working approach by employers is the measure that would most likely put people off from pulling a ‘sickie’, followed by initiatives such as ‘duvet mornings’ (where employees are allowed to take a couple of last minute lie ins a year). One in ten employees said that having to report the reason for their absence over the phone to their manager would out them off lying.



  1. PwC’s research is based on a consumer survey of over 2,000 UK adults (conducted between 20th and 24th June 2014) and data gathered from 2,500 global companies by PwC’s Saratoga team, the recognised leader in the measurement and benchmarking of human capital activity.
  2. In addition to sickness, absence includes industrial action, compassionate leave and any other unauthorised leave. It doesn’t include any entitled or statutory leave e.g. holidays, national holidays, maternity and paternity leave, jury service and military service.


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