Being off work for a genuine illness is one thing, but for an employee to tell their employer that they are ill when they aren’t and bunk off work is something entirely different. This feigning of illness has a big impact on small businesses and the wider economy. Breathe’s sick report has found that sickies are costing the UK economy £900 million a year, with SMEs missing out on 7.5 million working days as a consequence. 

The report, which quizzed 1,000 employees from UK based small businesses (5-249 employees), found that one in seven employees (16%) have admitted to throwing a sickie in the last 12 months and those that do appear to be serial offenders - pulling a sickie on average three times a year. Men were more likely to have thrown a sickie than women with 19% and 13% respectively.

Sickie reasons

So what are the most popular reasons for UK employees to throw a sickie? 42% stated that they did so for a ‘rest day’, 21% blamed being hungover from the previous night, 19% to avoid a situation at work, 15% to take an extra day for a pre-booked holiday and 14% started their weekend early. Whilst 12% wanted to avoid the commute and a further 12% bunked off work to receive their statutory sick pay.

The number one sickie reason, the need for a rest, was more prevalent in women, with the percentage of respondents rising to 44%. In Plymouth and Norwich the percentage of people stating that this was the reason for an impromptu sick day rose well above the national average of 42% to 75% and 67% respectively.

Another stand out stat is that one in five people (19%) felt compelled to call in sick in order to avoid a situation at work, such as a stressful meeting. The numbers revealed that men were more likely to revert to throwing a sickie to avoid a situation at work than women (22% and 15% respectively), as were those aged 35-54 who are at the height of their career. There were also some notable regional differences with the number of people using sickness as an excuse to avoid a situation at work rising to 50% in Edinburgh, Nottingham and Norfolk.

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What do these sickie reasons mean?

The fact that 16% of the UK workforce are pulling sickies in the first place highlights the need for small businesses to focus on the way they track and manage sickness absence as it is costing them. The UK workforce is crying out for change and these sickie reasons are a strong indication that a large number of the UK workforce don’t feel that the right lines of support and communication are in place to enable them to flag that they are stressed, overwhelmed or unhappy.

Breathe CEO Jonathan Richards comments: “Absence has a big impact on small companies, but it’s an area that is often overlooked or poorly managed. With the right support tools in place SMEs can reduce business admin and free up more time to create a culture where sickies simply don’t occur. This report shines a light on how absence impacts employees, employers and the wider business ecosystem.”

sick report 2017