Employee sickies a problem? Here’s what you can do

Fed up with fielding the Monday morning calls ‘I’ve got food poisoning … again’? The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) report that the first Monday in February is the most popular day of the year to ‘pull a sickie’: last year, 350,000 UK employees called in sick on this day.

Is absenteeism the bane of your life as an employer? Unscheduled absences from sickies can play havoc with work schedules and demotivate staff in the office trying to cover. High absenteeism disrupts productivity and worst of all it has a negative impact on continuity of service for clients.

employee sickiesWorkplace absenteeism is costing the UK economy significantly, to the tune of around £29 billion each year. According to the government’s Health & Safety Executive (HSE) 26.8 million working days were lost due to work-related ill health in 2017/18, with 15.4 million of those as a result of stress, depression or anxiety.

Managing employee absenteeism is still a key issue for employers.

The impact of absenteeism is widespread. Research by Breathe HR on the state of health and well-being in British SMEs found that 23 per cent of people have pulled a ‘sickie’ and taken days off when they are not actually ill – Breathe surveyed over 1,000 employees working in private sector SMEs in the UK.

Absenteeism is clearly a problem that businesses up and down the country are failing to address.

While people can’t be forced to show up to work, there are some things you can do to break the ‘sickies’ habit. In this article I’ll be looking at the actions a business can take to tackle absenteeism. First let’s take a look at some of the reasons why employees take too much sick leave.

The main causes of sick leave

High rates of absenteeism may be due to a good reason, but can also be as a result of workers who call in sick when they are actually perfectly healthy. Causes for either include:

  • Actual illness
  • Unhealthy lifestyle (hangover)
  • Caring for children or elderly relatives
  • Emotional issues
  • Bullying or problems in the workplace
  • Unhappiness at work
  • A lack of understanding about absence policies

And here are some things you can do to prevent your employees taking illegitimate sickies.

Ramp up your absence management practices

Employing rigorous absence management practices could act as a deterrent and nip any problems in the bud. Using HR software with an absence management tool is advisable and will help to spot patterns and enable you to have early conversations with staff members who are taking time off.

New guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says that organisations need to improve their communication around sickness absence policies.

Employers should ensure they have a clearly worded sickness absence policy. This should be explained during the onboarding of new staff and regularly reviewed with staff that take time off sick.

Return to work interviews conducted after any period of absence are an important part of absence management. They are an effective way of deterring unacceptable absence.

Invest in well-being initiatives

Not so long ago, most organisations viewed the health of their employees as a private matter and nothing to do with work. Absenteeism was seen as something employers had no control over. But there is increasing evidence to suggest that workplace absence reflects employee unhappiness.

In recent decades, EU and UK legislation has placed more responsibility on employers to look after the health, safety and welfare of their employees. Mental well-being is also now considered important. Deloitte report that workplace mental health and well-being is now at a tipping point.

“Public awareness of the importance of good workplace mental health and wellbeing is growing, as is the moral, societal and business case for improving it.”

As a result of legal cases against employers and a growing movement recognising the importance of better culture in business, many employers are now placing a greater emphasis on employee well-being.

When it comes to reducing absenteeism, investing in well-being initiatives can go a long way. But short-term and temporary well-being initiatives are little more than a sticking plaster. Free fruit and discounted gym memberships are token gestures and won’t work on their own.

In the previously mentioned Breathe report, 50 per cent of employees regularly work through their breaks and outside of working hours.

Well-being initiatives need to genuinely address some of the real causes of stress in the workplace. Taking breaks, not skipping lunch, not working long hours and taking full holiday allowances, should become the norm.

Employers should also look for positive ways to support well-being at work, like providing clubs that promote healthy activities, such as stretching classes and walking groups, offering meditation and mindfulness training, encouraging walking meetings, and enabling staff to volunteer in the local community – corporate social responsibility.

Well-being at work is no longer just about physical health. Mental well-being is equally important. Work-related stress and mental illness accounts for over half of all work absences.

Offer flexible working

Caring responsibilities is one of the top causes of short-term absence. Flexible working or a temporary change in working hours can help to prevent employees taking time off sick for family reasons.

Employees throwing sickies can harm a business and demotivate the staff left holding court. Getting tough will usually only make matters worse. Employing strategies to help prevent staff taking sickies is the answer.