Wellbeing & Benefits

Absence management experts reveal the first Monday in February is not the worst day for sickies. The second Monday in December is actually the worst day for sickness-related absence

Millions of pieces of data from hundreds of thousands of UK employees over the last decade have revealed that so-called National Sickie Day, tarred as the worst day in the year for employees being off ill, is a myth.

Whether it’s the dreary weather, a heavy weekend or winter cough, the first Monday in February has long been notorious for non-attendance.

But by analysing huge amounts of data, absence management software firm BrightHR has uncovered that the worst day for sickness-related absence is actually the second Monday in December. This was closely followed by the third Monday in June, the third Monday in November and the first Monday in December.

In fact, the official National Sickie Day ranked only 14th in the line-up the most illness blighted days.

Commenting on the findings, BrightHR’s CEO Paul Tooth said: “Three of the highest ranking sickness days fall within the bleaker months – flu season being the obvious culprit. But there could be another cause here too. Around 75 per cent of businesses reset their holiday allowance at the start of January, and unless managed, many workers find themselves running low on ‘rest’ days towards the end of the year. So staff maxing out holidays too early on in the year could also be leading to ‘sickies’ being pulled in the months leading up to Christmas.

“It’s surprising that sickness also peaked in June. There has been a rise in employees taking leave due to severe pollen allergies in the UK in recent years – which may explain this spike.”

Proving the Monday Blues struggle is real, the first day of the working week was by far the most prolific for sickness-related absence, with over 25 per cent of sick days landing on a Monday.

On the flip side, BrightHR’s research has revealed the last Friday in February could well be dubbed National Wellness Day, with the least number of sickness-related absences consistently recorded on that day. The first Friday in August came a close second for least number of sickies.

Paul Tooth added: “Monday was by far the worst day for sickness, while it seems the Friday feeling was enough to keep people carrying out their role until the end of the working week.

“Sickness leave can be difficult for business owners to manage. Even if they have a suspicion that someone is ‘pulling a sickie’, they need to go through the proper procedures to ensure they don’t leave themselves liable to potential costly employment tribunal cases further down the line. Keeping records of sickness, including correspondence and ‘fit’ notes where applicable, is the best way to protect a business from this.”

Meantime Dr Jill Miller, Research Adviser at the CIPD, comments: “Although National Sickie Day is a chance for us to chuckle at the bizarre reasons some people give for taking a day off work, there’s good reason not to be too flippant. Yes, some statistics suggest that the beginning of February sees an upsurge in employees downing tools in favour of duvets and TV, but many might be hiding much more significant issues.

“For example, our research on employee absence finds that employers that offer flexible working are less likely to report illegitimate absence, which suggests that some employees might be pulling a sickie to give themselves the flexibility they need. The rise of the ‘sandwich generation’, those who are looking after elderly parents as well as children, means that employees needing flexibility for caring responsibilities is only going to increase. Organisations are therefore going to end up facing the high costs of absence for employees taking what may be formally reported as non-genuine absence unless they think outside the rigid 9 to 5.

“Secondly, the number of organisations seeing an increase in reported mental health problems among employees has remained at a worrying level over the last few years. And this is just the number of reported problems – it’s likely that some unexplained absence may be due to mental health issues that people may not feel comfortable telling their employer about. As a nation we’re getting better talking about mental health but there’s still a long way to go and it relies on having an open organisation culture and a belief that you will be supported, whatever your situation.

“So, on Monday, instead of going into work and assuming every employee who doesn’t do the same is pulling a sickie, let it be a prompt to check whether you are providing enough flexibility for employees and cultivating a work environment where employees feel they are able to be themselves, and have a healthy work/life balance. This will allow them to give their best at work. Spending time understanding the demands on your workforce and making it possible for them to flex their work in a way that fits both their needs and the needs of the business will pay dividends in the long run when your employees are happy, healthy, loyal and productive.”

Our latest Absence Management Survey (over 1,000 HR professionals) found that:

         A quarter of organisations (24%) say that non-genuine absence is one of their top five most common causes of short-term absence, ranking higher than acute medical conditions and work-related injuries

o   The private sector is particularly likely to put illegitimate absence among their top 5 causes of absence

         The average number of days lost per employee per year in 2016 was 6.3 days (down from 6.9 in 2015)

o   On average, public sector employees have over three days more absence each year than those in the private sector

         The median annual absence cost per full-time equivalent employee is £522

         Two-fifths of organisations claim an increase in reported mental health problems (such as anxiety and depression) among employees in the past 12 months.

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