Don’t demonise staff for taking ‘sickies’, employers warned

Survey finds workers call in ill when they need a break – but presenteeism may be a bigger problem

Experts have warned employers not to stigmatise workers who take time off sick, after a new report found two in five people in the UK would pull a ‘sickie’ because they needed a break.

The survey of 3,655 adults, conducted by ComRes for the BBC, found 40 per cent of respondents would take a day off sick because they needed a break, and not because they were genuinely ill. This increased to 51 per cent among those aged 16-34.

The poll also found two-thirds (66 per cent) of respondents would not report a colleague who was pulling a sickie, with just 15 per cent claiming they would.

But Rachel Suff, senior policy adviser at the CIPD, pointed out that cases of non-genuine absence were very low and said employers ought to be more concerned about issues of presenteeism in the workforce. “At an average of 5.9 days per employee per year, CIPD research finds that sickness absence is the lowest ever recorded in 19 years,” she said, citing the findings of the CIPD’s most recent Health and wellbeing at work report.

Suff added: “Contrary to people pulling sickies, our survey also reveals worrying trends like presenteeism, with more than 80 per cent of organisations reporting that people work when ill.

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“Employers need to encourage cultures that support people when unwell and introduce an open sickness absence reporting climate, so that people can discuss any health issues and take time off when they need to get better.”

Jonathan Richards, CEO of software firm Breathe, also raised concerns that many employees who needed time off for mental health reasons would rather take unexplained sick days than discuss their absence with their employer.

Richards said managers and other senior staff needed to set an example when it came to managing stress and avoiding presenteeism. “All too often, managers will work through their lunch breaks, stay in the office for longer or access emails outside of working hours, enforcing a sense of presenteeism where employees feel obliged to constantly be working,” he said.

“Opening up discussions around mental health and wellbeing alongside physical health will create an ecosystem of trust within the business, ensuring that employees no longer need to lie when they need to take a day off for mental health reasons.”

The statistics released today were part of a wider survey by the BBC on values and morality in the UK, which also asked individuals at what stage they would intervene in situations that might involve harassment.

The poll found 31 per cent of respondents would step in if they saw a male boss touching a female employee on the back during a meeting – while 27 per cent would do nothing.

The majority (59 per cent) of respondents would intervene if they noticed a senior individual making sexual comments towards a colleague, and 73 per cent would intervene if they saw a colleague touch someone in an unwanted sexual manner, with 9 per cent saying they would go as far as to report this to the police.

Younger adults, aged between 16 and 34, were more likely to say they would intervene in all instances compared to older workers, while the survey found no notable difference between men and women.

The poll also revealed that 31 per cent of respondents would take home office supplies – such as staplers or notebooks – from their workplace. Nearly a third (30 per cent) said they would pretend to have a doctor’s appointment when they were really doing something else.

And 30 per cent of respondents said they would come into work early or stay late because their colleagues were doing so.

More than one in 10 (12 per cent) were willing to accept praise from a boss for work someone else had done, with men nearly twice as likely to do so than women (15 per cent and 9 per cent respectively).