We may all occasionally dread the thought of turning up to work on a Monday morning, but in January employees are likely to take 53% more sick days than in any other month of the year. High levels of short-term sickness absence can be a costly problem for organisations. In this article, we take a look at the steps employers can take to manage short-term sickness absence.
Today, the first Monday in February, is commonly referred to as National Sickie Day - the day of the year when an employee is most likely to call in sick. However, according to a former Cardiff University Psychologists formula, the start of the year also has the misfortune to host Blue Monday - the third Monday in January classed as the most depressing day of the year. A study by Exeter University found that Blue Monday could cost the UK economy £93 billion due to employees calling into work unwell, seemingly pipping National Sickie Day to the post as the day most likely to see the highest levels of sickness absence. Irrespective of the battle between Blue Monday and National Sickie Day for the top spot, absenteeism on a Monday is nothing new for employers. The absence rate on Mondays is nearly double that of Fridays (23.5% compared to 13.2%) and account for nine of the top ten days of sickness absence days recorded in 2017.
Employers are likely to experience the highest levels of sickness absence between January and March, compared to the rest of the year. Genuine reasons for sickness absence aside, the range of reasons given by employees for not turning up to work can make for entertaining reading! A spike in absence during the cold winter months may well be because of the cold weather, commuting in the dark, mounting debt caused by an influx of post-Christmas credit card bills, and the long gap between the Christmas holidays and the next Bank Holiday - 19 April 2019!
The latest sickness absence figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that more than 34 million working days were lost to “minor illnesses”, such as coughs and colds in 2017. Sickness absences last year cost UK employers an average of £656 per employee, with the impact of this more keenly felt by small to medium businesses.
Employers looking to tackle short-term intermittent sickness absence may want to consider taking the following steps:
- Offering flexible working options. Employers with flexible working options have been found to be less likely to have high levels of sickness absence. Employees can take advantage of the flexible arrangements and work from home if they are feeling a little under the weather.
- Monitoring sickness absences. Employers that have effective sickness absence management processes are less likely to have high sickness levels.
- Promoting health and wellbeing in the workplace. Employers can support the health and wellbeing of the workforce by, for example, arranging flu jabs in work time, increasing awareness of resilience and mental health, and offering opportunities to take part in yoga or meditation sessions.
Offering ‘duvet days’. Some employers have found that allowing employees one or two ‘duvet days’ per year (where an employee can call in and take a day’s unpaid leave or use an unscheduled days annual leave simply because they want to stay in bed for the day) can help to reduce sickness absence levels.
Limiting the amount of annual leave employees take in the summer. Some employees may take the majority of their annual leave in the summer and fail to save enough annual leave for the winter months. Limiting the amount of leave that can be taken over the summer will help to minimise the number of employees that feel they have no option but to take a sick day when they feel they need a day off in the winter months.