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Are we becoming sick of sick days?

Published: Monday 15th April 2019

Whilst there are many good reasons for a worker to take a day off for illness, it would be reasonably fair to say that everyone has ‘pulled a sickie’ at one time or another for reasons other than ill health. But recent research commissioned by Arden University has found that one of the most common reasons for a workplace absence might be due to the fact that the employee is at a job interview.

Man on sofa calling in work for a sick day

The UK’s favourite sick day

According to the report, the first Monday in February is the date when most employees take sick days. This might be because the period after New Year is when many workers start planning a job change – usually as the result of a New Year’s resolution to better themselves. If an employee is fed up with their current job, then the Christmas break usually gives them the time and the momentum to do something about it.

Workplace absences are falling

It might come as a surprise, however, to some to learn that the number of sick days taken by the average UK worker is quite low and, according the ONS (Office for National Statistics), falling further. In fact, the organisation has issued a warning to employees not to come into work if they are sick as this could affect their health further. The concern is that the fall in the workplace absences isn’t down to workers taking fewer sick days, but due to more staff coming into work when they have an illness – because they’re worried about losing their job.

Woman sick at work highlighting issues of workplace wellness

Sick days taken vary according to industry sector

In 2017, the average number of sick days for UK workers was 4.1. However, this did vary depending on whether the employee worked in the private or public sector. In the private sector, the rate was just 1.7% while in the public sector it was 2.6%. The ONS points out that rates of absenteeism are falling in the public sector and now only marginally higher than that of big companies (over 500 employees) in the private sector. That said, the public sector still experiences the highest levels of workplace absences due to illness, perhaps due to the fact that private sector workers are less likely to be paid when they do take a sick day. Incidentally, agricultural jobs had the lowest rate of sickness in private sector workers at just 1.4%.

Is presenteeism replacing absenteeism?

For younger members of staff, coughs and colds tend to the most common explanation for sick days while older employees tend to be absent due to back and joint pain. Significantly, there has been a rise in the number of workers taking days off due to mental or emotional health issues.

However, in most instances, it appears workers have genuine reasons for workplace absences and the idea that UK workers take too many sick days may be a misperception. In fact, the reality may be that more people go into work when they are ill than call in sick when they are fine so we could be at the start of a trend where we have more of a problem with presenteeism than absenteeism.

Employees having a day off work with sickness

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