Recent global research from PWc, who interviewed over 2,000 UK adults and data gathered from 2,500 global companies, showed that even though the rates are significantly lower than in previous years, sick days are still costing UK organisations over £23bn a year.
Of course there are genuine reasons for many people to take time off work. Nobody would expect an employee with cancer undergoing radiotherapy to be in work, and after a prolonged absence, modern HR teams are skilled in supporting these employees to make sure they are ready to come back and adequately looked after when they do.
However there is also the issue of how we tackle employees who believe that the odd ‘sickie’ is ok – and getting them to realise that their short absences harm their employer and the economy as a whole.
One of the most interesting findings of PWCs research was a massive variance from region to region when it comes to ‘pulling a sickie’.
A quarter of employees in the North East admits to having pulled a sickie, but this is by far the lowest of the UK regions, with Londoners topping the list with a massive 43% admitting to taking sick days, followed by 36% in the North West.
Popular reasons in the North East ranged from having a hangover (19%), family responsibilities (40%), interviewing for another job (28%) and good weather (14%).
Illness is by far the most common reason given with 50% in the region using it as an excuse.
PWc estimate that out of the total £23bn a year, the amount that can be directly attributed to employees lying or exaggerating to take time off work is a massive £9bn a year, and this is a sum that businesses are working hard to reduce.
Bill MacLeod, senior partner at PwC in Newcastle, said:
“The combination of better weather and major sporting events may mean that the temptation to lie to take time off work to watch sport is too much for some.
“Organisations could easily reduce the knock-on impact on their workers’ productivity levels by offering flexible working or allowing them to watch key matches in the office.
“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 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.”
In the North East, 24% of those surveyed said a flexible working approach is the measure that would most likely put them off from pulling a ‘sickie’, along with initiatives such as duvet days with 8% saying these schemes would put them off pulling a sickie.
Codel Software, developers of absence management
software ‘Activ Absence
’ also observed that making workers aware of the effect their short term absence has on an organisation can positively change their views on sickies. Many organisations now use something called ‘the Bradford Factor’ to analyse when a staff members’ short term sickness reaches an unacceptable level, the calculation is built into Codel’s software and each employee sees their own level every time they login.
Adrian Lewis, Director of Codel Software, said:
“It is widely accepted that, used effectively, the Bradford Factor
can reduce absenteeism by serving as a deterrent and a method for tackling persistent absenteeism: Studies have shown that by educating staff about the Bradford Factor and then showing them their score on a regular basis, (as we do in Activ Absence) absenteeism can be reduced by over 20%
This is largely down to staff understanding that taking the ‘odd’ day off here and there will quickly multiply their Bradford Factor score. The Bradford Factor places a value on the impact of the absence which an employee can clearly see, this can serve to deter absenteeism.”
For those who want to understand about their Bradford Factor, there is a handy calculator on Codel’s Activ Absence
The overwhelming message of the PWc report is clear, whilst the absence figures are going in the right direction, there is still a great deal of work to be done.