British workers took the seventh lowest number of sick days in Europe last year, according to new research that identifies the countries who are most and least notorious for pulling a sickie

With the cold winter months right around the corner and Covid infection rates on the rise, many are predicting a challenging few months ahead. 

Despite living through a global pandemic for the past 19 months, the research from workforce management solutions provider, Mitrefinch found that workers in the UK only took an average of 5.8 days sick leave last year.

Sweden and Switzerland at the top

Both Switzerland and Sweden shared the top spot when it came to excellent attendance, with their workers taking just 2.4 days sick leave on average over the course of a calendar year. Ukraine (3.7 days) and Malta (4.2 days) made up the rest of the top three.

Mitrefinch says the reasons these two countries had impressive low sickness rates is because they are famously generous with annual leave entitlement. 

Sweden is known for having more holiday time than any other country in the world – 41 days of paid leave – which makes the efforts by British workers appear even more impressive. 

With remote working, catching the annual cold and other bugs from colleagues in the office hasn’t been such a concern.

Brits feel guilty being ill

 However, British workers say they feel guilty taking sick days if they are already working from home, and recent figures suggest that more than a third of UK workers have continued to log on (even from their beds!) – despite being unwell. 

The report speculates this is due to fears over redundancy, or feeling a pressure of presenteeism; a phenomenon discussed by Sabrina Munns in her analysis piece on HR Review.

Bulgarian employees were found most likely to call in sick, taking on average 22 days off per year according to the most recent figures available. Workers in Germany didn’t fare too much better taking 18.3 days, with those in the Czech Republic also taking off the equivalent of more than three working weeks with sickness (16.3 days).

Earlier this week, HR Review reported on Rome’s trash dilemma, where the mayor has offered financial rewards for waste workers who didn’t skip work. It’s after reports that one thousand workers take the day off every day in the city, which is notoriously dirty. 

Sick days may be needed for recuperation

Managing Director at Mitrefinch, Mark Dewell said while sick days and other absences cost the UK economy a £18 billion a year through lost productivity, and figures expected to rise to £21 billion in 2022, it is still important for workers to be given time to recuperate when they need it.

He said:  “Taking a sick day should (not) be seen as a weakness or a lack of commitment – especially during a global pandemic, with so many people suffering from burnout. Taking time out of work mode to recover from illnesses (be that mental or physical) is integral to the productivity and growth of any successful business, and the fact that over a third of UK workers admit to working despite being unwell is a serious cause for concern.”

Lizzie Benton is a culture consultant at Liberty Mind and criticised Britain’s ‘outdated’ workplace attitudes:  “Fear and control is what many organisations are run by, and for employees, asking for a day off sick is like showing weakness, or admitting a failure.

“It’s not just the act of taking a day off, but the repercussions this may have when an employee returns to work. Managers treating them coldly, or over-questioning about a day off to imply they were faking it in some way.”