How much are sick days costing your business?

The first Monday in February is said to be the biggest sick day of the year, as employees enjoy their first weekend of freedom after the relative constraints of Dry January – remember, if you’ve had one too many the night before you might still be over the drink drive limit the following  morning. If you’re in any doubt, you should work from home and conduct any meetings via conference call.

If you’re an employer, do you know how much sick days are costing your business each year?

What’s the cost of sick days in the UK?

No employer is naive enough to think that the odd employee won’t take a bogus sick day from time to time, but workers who lied to take a day off sick cost UK businesses a combined £5.6 billion in 2019, according to a recent study from, office suppliers, Viking.

Although the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that sickness absences had fallen to an all-time low in 2017, this latest study reveals that the sickie could be on the rise again.

The study of 2,000 UK workers looked at attitudes to taking time off sick and found that, on average, employees weren’t genuinely sick in over a third (38%) of recorded absences. This works out at 51.9 million sick days being taken in the UK in 2019, at an average cost of £107.85 per day for every business.

It was also found that lying to take time off sick days more common among younger employees, with almost three quarters (71%) of 25-34-year olds admitted they’d lied when calling in sick, compared to just a quarter (25%) of over 65s.

Is ‘always on’ culture leading to more sick days?

Another finding of Viking’s research was that employees are facing a growing pressure to avoid taking sick days. Almost nine-in-ten (86%) 25-34-year olds reported feeling under pressure to avoid taking sick days, even if they are genuinely ill. And it seems like the ‘always on’ culture of UK workplaces could be taking its toll, as the reasons to avoid taking time off include:

  • Stress caused by their workload (33%)
  • Anxiety about calling in sick (31%)
  • Pressure from their manager (24%)

On the flip side, fewer than half (44%) of over 65s said they feel pressure to avoid taking time off.

Younger generations are also much stricter when it comes to what should constitute a day off:

Percentage of employees who think it constitutes a day off

Illness/ Sickness 25-34-year olds Over 65s
Fever 39% 63%
Food poisoning 52% 78%
Needing to go to hospital 50% 77%
Common cold 21% 16%
Poor mental health 29% 40%

Do your employees know you sickness policy?

Viking’s study also highlighted how many employees are in the dark when it comes to their company’s policies on sick days. But, once again, it comes down to  age -over half (53%) of 25-34-year olds are unaware of their company’s policy on sick days, compared to under a third (27%) of over 65s.

The study also showed how attitudes to mental health issues also change with age – one-third  of 25-34 year olds (33%) believe mental health sick days should be separate to regular sick days, compared to just 11% of over 65s.

Bob Huibers, Marketing Executive at Viking, commented on the research: “Businesses should be aware of the changing attitudes towards taking sick days. With absences falling to an all-time low, younger generations are forcing themselves into the office with colds, fevers, and poor mental health. Not only will this take its toll on employee’s health, but it will see a dip in productivity during office hours as well.

“Communicating a fair policy and helping employees understand their rights when it comes to taking sick days will help reduce the pressure and stigma surrounding the subject. Taking time off when necessary will help employees recover and return to work in good health.”

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