Absence Management Helpine
29th January 2016

The True Cost Of Sickness Absence on National Sickie Day

Having seen a significant increase in the number of businesses we help by providing our absence assist services, we know this is an issue employees have begun to acknowledge. We now manage the absence process for over 8,500 staff members across the UK. This year have found a 47.65 per cent increase in absence calls today when compared with last Monday. The patterns we have observed from our service show that the cost National Sickie Day will have this year is extremely high, and there is still a lot more that can be done

What Is National Sickie Day?

HR expert ELAS first coined the term National Sickie Day five years ago and it has since gathered pace, becoming a UK wide phenomenon that could cost businesses in excess of £34m in wages, lost hours and overtime in 2016.

Over the past decade, ELAS has observed an upsurge in unauthorised staff sickness absence taking place on February 1st. ELAS began to research why this particular day was causing no end of stress to employers and – after reviewing client feedback – discovered that UK employees are most likely to take an unofficial holiday due to mounting debt caused by an influx of post-Christmas credit card bills, miserable weather, commuting in the dark and the long gap between holidays – with the next Bank Holiday (25th March) feeling a long way off.

When Is National Sickie Day?

As the trend for high rates of absence on February 1st persisted, ELAS gave a name to National Sickie Day in 2011. Last year, an estimated 350,000 UK workers took the day off and ELAS is warning businesses to expect an influx of sickness absence excuses. Expect workers to call their bosses to explain their short-term mystery ailments.

To warn employers of the kind of excuses for sickness absence that they can expect to hear on National Sickie Day, ELAS has carried out further research. We surveyed 1,500 UK workers (One Poll survey, commissioned by ELAS).

According to the results, some of the most popular excuses UK workers plan on using for sickness absence are:

1. Sick or migraine (30%)
2. ‘Illness’ (12%)
3. Stomach bug or diarrhoea (6%)
4. Flu/cold (6%)
5. Blame relative/children (5%)
6. Food poisoning (3%)
7. Death or a funeral (2%)

According to the Department for Work and Pensions, more than 130 million days are lost due to sickness absence every year. ACAS calculates that the total cost of workplace absenteeism to the UK economy each year is £17 billion.

How Much Does National Sickie Day Cost UK Businesses?

The Office for National Statistics calculates that employees in the public sector are likely to take more sick days than those working in the private sector. Public sector organisations experience a median of 3.5 per cent of working time lost due to sickness absence. Equivalent to 8.1 days per employee. While private sector services organisations lost a median of 2.2 per cent of working time to sickness absence. Translating to around 5.1 days per employee.

Peter Mooney, head of consultancy at ELAS, says: “There’s no doubt that January can be difficult for employees. As Christmas bills roll in, people are arriving to and leaving work in the dark and the next holiday feels a long way off.

“It is therefore vital that employers take steps to properly manage sickness absence.  This will help mitigate the impact sickness has on the success of the business.

“Employees need to know that fabricated reasons for missing work will not be tolerated. To minimise the impact false sickness absence have on businesses, it’s important that employers take the issue seriously. Record all instances of lateness and sickness absence. Conduct back-to-work interviews and crucially, have clear policies and procedures in place. You must regularly communicate these policies and procedures to your staff.”

Other far-fetched excuses on ELAS’ records for National Sickie Day include:

• A worker called to say he couldn’t come in because his girlfriend’s sister was having a baby. A follow up call by the employer to verify this revealed that there was no girlfriend.
• A worker called to say she couldn’t come in because she had been play fighting with her boyfriend and hurt her finger as a result
• A worker called to say they couldn’t make it to work that day because their car exhaust has fallen off on the driveway
• One employee said he only had one pair of work trousers and that they were wet because his mum has washed them, so he couldn’t make it into the office
• A worker said they needed new tyres on their car and it would otherwise be illegal for them to drive to work
• One worker said he couldn’t afford to put petrol in his car to get to work
• One worker said the weather was too bad to cycle to work. Another said they were too tired to cycle to work
• One employee took a leave of sickness absence after saying his grandfather had died. The company’s HR manager knew the family and bumped into the grandfather. He was very much alive and well, at the supermarket.
• An employee said that the reason why he could not attend work was because his dog had chewed his shoes.
• Another employee said that the reason she could not work that day was because she was trying for a baby.
• An employee who said he was still over the limit.


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