The Decline in Sick Days

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Last year saw UK workers take an average of 4.3 days off work due to illness. The lowest number since records began over 25 years ago, this number has startling consequences and although some have heralded this as a triumph, experts say this suggests more bad health than good.

In May this year, Aviva Health published their findings from a report on UK workplaces. Finding that over 70% of us would still choose to go to work rather than call in sick, the study suggests that rather than a decline in illnesses, there has instead been an increase in ‘mucus troopers’. Questioning the reasoning behind this opinion, Aviva found the main motives to be centred on feelings that employee health and wellbeing were playing second fiddle to the success of the company.

With 40% of us choosing not to take a sick day for fear of work piling up, Business Psychology Company, Robertson Cooper, claims that ‘not feeling they have enough time to do their job’ has taken over from ‘too much change in the workplace’ as the top reason for employees feeling stressed at work. A problem which is harming the work environment two-fold, with stress contributing to the level of illness.

Their research into the decline of sick days, found that even those turning up at the office were in fact not performing to their best, with productivity levels dropping from 75% on ‘normal days’ to less than 55% on days they were feeling unwell.

“Crucially this lower productivity fuels the new top source of stress, which is not having enough time to complete their job.”

A large majority of those turning in for work, when they’d be better off staying in bed with a bowl of soup, say they do so for a fear of losing their jobs. Back in 2013, Labour MP John McDonnell warned that this could be the consequence of a fast paced and competitive job market, stating,

“High levels of unemployment and escalating job cuts in the public sector have created a climate of stressful insecurity at work”

Nurse, Victoria Ayoub, puts our refusal to stay at home down to the guilt felt when taking a sick day, and with 84% of participants in a Metro survey saying they “felt guilty every time” they took a sick day, her reasoning hits close to the bone.

There are companies out there trying to dissuade their employees from turning up and spreading germs, with Foursquare even implementing an ‘unsick days’ policy, to encourage employees to take the time they need when seeing a doctor. A move that could actually reduce the number of sick days taken, both reducing stress, as well as the 81% of people who claim they’ve become sick after an employee has come into the workplace with a bug.

As time goes on it’s important that our employees feel their health is at the top of our agenda, as perks like pool tables are unlikely to raise morale, when your staff are too busy sneezing to enjoy them.