Three ways to find a remedy for costly ‘sickies’

As I write this, I’m looking longing out at the bright sunshine from my office window. We may be out of the World Cup, but Andy Murray is doing us proud at Wimbledon. It’s a beautiful time of year in the UK, and for many, the temptation to lie to take time off work to watch sport is too much, with one in three of British workers admitting that they’ve pulled a ‘sickie’.

Sick days are costing UK business over £23bn a year, but our research shows that a large proportion of the sick bill is preventable.  People lying or exaggerating to take time off work is costing UK business £9bn a year. We 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.

While we may laugh at some of the worst excuses ever, the cost of these absences can be crippling for businesses, particularly for start-ups and SMEs. But there are some things that companies can consider to find a remedy for these costly ‘sickies’:

  • Organisations need to get better at recording and monitoring absence patterns so they can pinpoint issues and tackle them. This kind of management information can help HR departments spot the pressure points and identify whether there is a more serious underlying issue that might result in losing top talent. We’ve recently done some work for a company, using analytics to predict which of their top talent could be potential flight risk. Being able to hold onto valued employees in a jobs market that is rapidly heating up provides companies with a great competitive advantage.
  • Consider the way employees have to report their absence. One in ten employees said that having to report the reason for their absence over the phone to their manager would put them off lying.
  • A flexible working culture can help productivity levels and increase employee engagement. The recent 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. But there are other things employers can do. So, if there’s a big match on, consider showing it in the office. ‘Duvet mornings’ (where employees are allowed to take a couple of last minute lie ins a year) were another popular initiative among our survey participants that would help reduce the number of unnecessary sick days.

Do you have any remedies of your own that have worked for your organisation? 

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Anthony Bruce | Partner
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