It might be common for employees to 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. High levels of short-term sickness absence can be a costly problem for organisations. This article looks at the steps employers can take to manage short-term sickness absence.

National 'sickie' day

The first Monday in February is commonly referred to as national 'sickie' day – the day of the year when employees are most likely to call in sick. However, according to a former Cardiff University psychologist's 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; therefore, it seems that Blue Monday sees higher levels of sickness absence than national sickie day. 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 accounted for nine of the top 10 days of sickness absence days recorded in 2017.

Employee sickness

Employers are likely to experience the highest levels of sickness absence between January and March compared with the rest of the year. A spike in absence during the cold winter months could 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 in 2018 cost UK employers an average of £656 per employee, with the impact of this more acutely felt by small to medium businesses.

Managing short-term absence

Employers looking to tackle short-term intermittent sickness absence may want to consider the following steps:

  • Offer 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 unwell.
  • Monitor sickness absences – employers that have effective sickness absence management processes are less likely to have high sickness levels.
  • Promote 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.
  • Offer '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 unscheduled annual leave simply because they want to stay in bed for the day) can help to reduce sickness absence levels.
  • Limit 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 employees can take over the summer will help to minimise the number of employees that feel that they have to take a sick day when they want a day off in the winter months.

This article was first published by the International Law Office, a premium online legal update service for major companies and law firms worldwide. Register for a free subscription.