Written by Ciara Duggan and

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The first Monday of February was dubbed “National Sickie Day” by the ELAS Group for the first time in 2011, so called as it was the most popular day of the year for employees to call in sick. Its impact has lessened in recent years, but it highlights the issues of absence management in the workplace and offers employers the opportunity to address it.

While there is debate as to whether “National Sickie Day” is a real phenomenon, there is agreement as to its potential causes. Take 4 February 2019 as an example; it was the first weekend since the January pay packet, and the first weekend since the end of another phenomenon – Dry January. It also happened to coincide with the Super Bowl in the US, which was played from Sunday night into the early hours of Monday morning.

As a result, employers might have seen an increase in the number of their employees calling in sick. Of course, there will be some genuine cases of sickness; many people succumb to colds and flu this time of year, while others will be absent because of ongoing health problems. However, the less genuine absentees will have had a significant impact on the business. ELAS estimated that 2017’s National Sickie Day saw 350,000 people call in sick from work, costing employers approximately £45 million.

Managing staff absences in both the short and long term can be difficult for employers, but there are ways in which HR can assist to reduce the number of unplanned absences. One method ELAS suggest is to have in place a robust return to work procedure, including discussions with the employee on their return to explain the reason for their absence.

Having to explain their absence may discourage those seeking to “pull a sickie” from doing so, while also helping employers to keep track of any recurring health concerns. Discussions like this may also help employers to keep track of any patterns in an employee’s absence, such as recurring long weekends, or avoiding work on certain days. Another method to discourage “sickies” may be requiring an employee to call rather than email or text.

Other methods may assist with reducing the number of “sickies” an employee takes during the year. One such method is allowing employees to take a “duvet day”. First used in 1997, it allows the employee to take the day off once or twice a year as part of their annual leave without having to give an excuse. Such a method would reduce the need for an employee to invent an excuse to stay off work and gives the employer a degree of control over when the days are taken. Other options include improving access to flexible working arrangements or promoting their existence; such methods would help employees better balance their home/work lives and reduce the need to take days off as a result.

National Sickie Day could therefore be an opportunity for employers to review how they handle absences in the workplace, and to explore new methods for preventing unnecessary sick days which cost the business both time and money.

7th February 2019