Welcome to the first day of February, otherwise known as National Sickie Day, but how will it differ this year as we embrace a new working culture?
According to the Office for National Statistics, the first Monday of February is when most people are likely to phone in sick, costing the UK economy a staggering £45 million. Most popular excuses usually range from flu and food poisoning to the more questionable and imaginative pet stories. If only some employees could channel that level of creativity into their actual work, we hear employers say. There are a variety of real reasons attributed to sick leave on this day: persistent dull weather leading to a general malaise; January being a month of re-evaluation leading to job interviews; the first pay day after Christmas and dry January culminating in the inevitable hangover.
Deciphering between fact and fiction this year could be problematic. Welcome to a whole new world of ‘excuses’ which quite frankly will be hard to challenge: “I had to home school my children”; “couldn’t leave the house, I’m self-isolating”; “had to wait in for the Ocado delivery”; “I feel too tired and burnt out”; “I’m suffering from zoom fatigue”; “I’m having a technology meltdown”; “oh and did I tell you, I actually have COVID!”; or if your employee is really lucky, “I had to go for my vaccine appointment.”
What is more worrying this year is the number of people working from home either whilst ill or using an excuse as a cover for mental illness. If only we could see behind closed doors. Should we accept excuses or probe further to find out the real reason for sickness? Are we developing a culture where ‘duvet days’ become the norm instead of channelling our compassion into getting to the real root of the problem? Perhaps managers should be encouraged (and trained properly) to have more candid conversations to ensure that sickie days are prevented from escalating.
Presenteeism is certainly on the increase, and this year could well take over from ‘sickie’ days. It has become all too easy to work from home when ill, whether through guilt, pressure of workload or just because there is nothing new on Netflix. Leaveism is also a growing concern. After all, what is the point of taking holiday when there is no holiday to be had?
But how can employers really address these issues in this new world of work? Staff should be offered greater flexibility and autonomy. Employers should develop a positive work culture with a strong sense of belonging and trust. Managers should be equipped with the skills to ensure their employees do not feel so isolated, feel comfortable having honest discussions about their health and embrace the concept of self-care.
Recent statistics have actually shown that the amount of people taking ‘sickies’ at the beginning of February is on the decline, especially as Millennials and GenZ seem to be more resilient. So is it now time to perhaps rename today National Presenteeism Day in this new world of work?