Head Of Training, The Healthy Work Company

February 6, 2017

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‘National Sickie Day’ – the most popular day for staying in bed


If you called your boss today and told a few little lies about being under the weather, you weren’t alone. The first Monday in February is known as ‘National Sickie Day’, as traditionally it sees the highest number of workers calling in sick, with an estimated 375,000 British workers taking the day off sick or skipping an important job interview. Which leaves us to ask the question, is workplace absenteeism actually on the rise? And what harm does it really do to have the occasional (not so) sick day, especially if we feel overworked and tired?

Some recent excuses for missing work on National Sickie Day, as reported by the Daily telegraph include:

  1. “I’ve accidentally locked myself in the bathroom and I’m having to wait until someone with a key to the house can come round to let me out.”
  2. “I’ve accidentally sent my uniform to the charity shop so need to go and buy it back.”
  3. “My plastic surgery has gone wrong and I need to go and get it fixed.”
  4. “I thought it was a bank holiday today and I’m 500 miles away.”
  5. “I missed the stop on my train this morning and can’t get off the train now until London.” – a worker from Glasgow.


woman-699004_960_720For many people being absent from work is more than just wanting a day in bed.  Many people are feeling overworked or stressed and often really need a break, and others are picking up many winter bugs that mean they really can’t get into work. According to business advisors ELAS freezing temperatures, widespread ‘flu outbreaks and a stalling economy look set to compound the misery this year, as they estimate that sick day absences on 6 February may cost the economy as much as £34 million in salary, reduced productivity and, lost opportunities.

Head of consultancy at ELAS Peter Mooney laments the fact that many employers have ‘drifted’ into accepting text messages and emails from staff who plan to take the day off and are failing to challenge employees’ reasons for absence. Such a lax approach towards absence can allow an ‘absence culture’ to flourish in the workplace, hitting morale and productivity at a time when most organisations need to be looking to find ways of boosting future growth, say business experts ACAS.

However ACAS says that while the number of people suspected of calling in sick continues to grow, the actual number of days they are taking off work is falling, “as the faltering economy prompts managers to address problems of absenteeism more effectively”.


While absentism may be costing businesses money, many would say that presenteeism – people remaining in work when they are unwell – is actually a bigger issue.

A Work Foundation report has found that presenteeism, or sickness presence, could account for as much if not more of a loss in productivity than sickness absence. The report found that personal money troubles, work-related stress and perceived pressure from managers were all contributing factors. The ongoing economic downturn has seen the problem worsen, with staff worrying more about possible downsizing and job losses, ACAS has reported.

Sickness presence can lead to longer recover periods from illness, so it is essential that managers and staff understand sickness absence.

Finding a balance

Business Advice talks about the balance between understanding that employees may be stressed at work, but also picking up on patterns of absenteeism. For Ann Francke, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, National Sickie Day “should serve as a reminder to employers of the importance of tackling stress and unhappiness in the workplace”.

“Having good quality leadership and management is the biggest factor in determining productivity. Good, skilled managers know that they need to switch off and empower their employees to do the same,” she said in a statement.

However, regular absences shouldn’t be tolerated by business owners, and Emma O’Leary, ELAS employment law consultant, suggested that National Sickie Day was not an excuse to take the day off.

“As an employer you are perfectly entitled to challenge the authenticity of an absence – if an excuse seems too far-fetched then ask for evidence if appropriate. If you notice a pattern emerging then you should speak to the employee about their poor attendance and take proactive steps to action it,” she said.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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