Why sick days may become a thing of the past

Fortunately, employers are beginning to address this problem

Let’s face it, most of us have pulled a sickie in our working lives; however, faking an illness for the day requires levels of imagination, creativity and ingenuity not called upon since our school days. Why do we feel the need for subterfuge just to recharge our batteries?

How much we enjoy our sneaky day off is debatable. For many, the day is spent worrying about whether our deception will be exposed on our return to work. Why do we feel the need to be so covert about taking the odd day off in the first place? After all, we are working harder and longer than ever before and surely we deserve a little ‘me time’ every now and then?

Employees cite a range of reasons for taking a sick day. These include needing a break from clients, the monotony of the spreadsheet culture, obnoxious colleagues and a thumping hangover.

Traditionally, employers have divided time off into holiday and sick leave. There is evidence to suggest that where time off is deliberately set aside for sickness, it encourages staff to fake their reasons for absence; for example, one study concluded that 38% of employees feigned illness. Another study found that 80% of staff thought their colleagues were lying if they rang in sick.

This does not encourage a trusting working environment. There is no doubt that when a colleague is unexpectedly absent, it puts others under pressure and generates resentments.

Changing the sick day culture and structure is therefore overdue and some companies have adopted ‘duvet days’. These allow the worker to take the day off for a variety of reasons, whether genuinely for illness, a medical appointment or a well-needed break. The name change also hands over some freedom to the employee, who is less likely to fabricate reasons for being off work and more likely to enjoy a sense of wellbeing.

It also acknowledges the value of addressing mental health issues. A ‘duvet day’ is interpreted more positively – it does not have the negative connotations of a sick day. This results in better use being made of the time off work.

Another strategy adopted by employers is to pool sick, holiday and personal days together and hand them over to staff en masse, enabling workers to decide when to use sick days and how to use them. The time is also sometimes given as a rolling programme and is therefore more likely to be used authentically. This approach also reduces the associated administration demands on human resources departments.

This new, grown-up attitude to handling time off for staff not only allows companies to be more flexible but also nurtures positive relations between staff and their bosses. A supported workforce achieves greater output, which can only be beneficial all round.

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