Why employees ‘throw a sickie’

Have you ever thrown a ‘sickie’? According to statistics, the first Monday in February is known as ‘National Sickie Day’ because it’s the time when most people call their manager to say they’re too ill to work.

With increasing cold and flu and dark, dismal days, it’s not surprising that some people feel too poorly or depressed to work in February. Others may choose to stay at home to prevent spreading their germs, which should be encouraged. You really don’t want to risk losing more working days as the bug spreads around your team!

The ‘sickie’ that creates real problems for SMEs, however, is the fake one! Real Business magazine carried out a survey of employers about fake sickness and estimated that UK employees cost businesses £5.6bn a year. Unwarranted days off work, it says, costs a business £107.85 a day on average. 

If someone is regularly taking unscheduled days off, finding out why helps you offer the right support. And that leads to a reduction in lost working time, which is good for your employee and your business.

To help make SMEs great places to work, being approachable is essential when employees have issues.

Reasons they lie about sickness

Research from the Netherlands shows that more than one in three people fake an illness to achieve a personal goal. Over half admitted to faking physical symptoms, while 7.5% said they had faked mental problems.

But why do employees fake illness? Not everyone simply ‘swings the lead’ – many are hiding genuine problems. A study by psychology consultants outlines the following reasons why people fake illness:

  • They have mental health problems they won’t tell you about. Recent analysis shows more than 50% of people faking a physical illness are actually hiding a mental health problem.
  • They are burnt out.
  • Workers are not happy with their job.
  • The culture of the workplace is an issue.
  • Businesses don’t have a proper sickness policy.

What to do if someone is faking illness

First of all, you must not assume everyone who calls in sick is faking it. Many people are genuine and may need your help. If you get that wrong, it could cost you in the long run if the employee feels pressurised. 

But you may have employees who mysteriously have an illness on the same day of every month, such as those who call in sick regularly on Mondays and Fridays. The key is having a proper sickness policy in place so that employees clearly understand what constitutes a genuine absence. 

Many SMEs are so busy with the daily tasks of running a business they simply don’t recognise sickness problems. It’s not until projects are behind schedule or costs to cover absenteeism increase that they start to investigate. Our tip is to put protocols in place long before there are any issues.

shrewd HR tips to reduce sickness absence

  1. Sickness policies are important. As we’ve already mentioned, if employees are aware of what is expected of them when they fall ill they are less likely to ‘throw a sickie’.
  2. Record and analyse absence. If someone who rarely takes a day off calls in sick, then you won’t need to analyse their absence. But recording patterns of sickness helps you identify anyone who is regularly absent. The ‘Bradford Formula’ is a calculation of the number of occurrences multiplied by the number of days absent. If the score is above 45, then it’s time to be concerned about an employee’s absenteeism.
  3. Watch stress levels. According to the CIPD’s health and well-being at work report, stress and mental ill-health are leading causes of long-term absence. You may need to help employees with manageable workloads or train managers how to manage employee stress.
  4. Encourage a work-life balance. Overworking is as bad as underworking! Making too many demands means some employees will work extra hours. In the end, they’ll feel like they don’t have a life outside the workplace and become exhausted. Encourage flexibility and you’ll see sickness absence reduce and witness an increase in happy colleagues.
  5. Don’t encourage presenteeism. The opposite of absenteeism, this is where employees come to the place of work because they don’t want to be seen as ‘throwing a sickie’. The problem is that any germs or bugs can be spread around your team and they’ll have to take time off. Overall, it impacts your business more than them taking a couple of days to let the bug leave their system.

What to do next

If your business has one or more employees who appear to be regularly absent, we can help. Our shrewd HR Solutions offer ways to solve your problem through our six-step process. Contact us today for more details.