Workers should be allowed ‘duvet mornings’ each year to prevent sickies

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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 put them off lying.

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3 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. A flexible working culture yes, and an emphasis upon emotional life skills both within the culture of the organisation and within training programmes would help enormously. We are not taught emotional life skills at school, yet we are faced daily with emotional challenges. If we suppress them, (as most tend to do, especially at work) if we are unable to express them, it is natural to withdraw…hide behind systems…adopt passive/aggressive or aggressive stance …..or duvet dive as you say! Consequence? Absence from work.

  2. I have depression, and being able to occasionally flake out on a morning of work has been instrumental in me being able to get back to work consistently. I’m very lucky in that my employer has considered this as part of my reasonable adjustments.

  3. Reasonable adjustments should always be made for those needing them but really – should we be pandering to laziness and those just wanting a lie in because they are feeling the stresses and strains of everyday life? I’m from the older culture I guess where if you woke up, were breathing and could put one foot in front of the other, you got on with it and went to work. Sometimes being at work was therapeutic as I found when I was diagnosed with cancer.
    Flexible working should never be at the expense of an employer getting work done. I recall with afternoon world cup matches, we could take our lunch break later and the gaffer got a TV in for us to watch if we couldn’t miss a match.
    Those were the days!!

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