The Global ‘Sickie’ Culture – Is There A Solution?

Sickie CultureThe staff sickness rate in the UK is historically ‘half that of Germany’ according to analysis of more than 2,600 companies in three countries by Dr Wen Wang and Professor Roger Seifert of the Wolverhampton Business School (WBS). Workplace absence costs British business £32bn a year, and Germany and France suffer even bigger losses according to the research. The CIPD 2013 Annual Absence Management Survey reveals that absence in the UK private sector is 7.6 days on average for every employee in the workforce, equating to a cost of £595 per year per person. The results of the analysis carried out by the WBS, reported in an article in the Guardian.com suggests the difference in employment protection and sick pay is one reason given for the higher rates within mainland Europe. “The Local”, an English language newspaper in Germany refers to research carried out by the GfK Research Institute that indicates just under half of German workers have actually taken a sick day when they were not sick. It would seem that no nation is free of this costly problem.

That this is a world-wide issue was also highlighted  in the  Global Absence Survey, we carried out here at Kronos last year. It was really interesting to see the similarities and differences between different countries. According to the Survey, significant numbers of employees across the world admitted to calling in sick when they were not ill at all. China led the regions surveyed, with 71 percent of employees admitting to calling in sick when they were not actually sick.  One of the contributory factors for the differences appeared to be the amount of paid leave allowed. France, for example has the most generous paid leave allowance of the countries surveyed with 25 days, and had fewer instances of employees ‘pulling a sickie’ whereas China has only 7 days paid leave allowance in the first year of employment and capped at 14 days in subsequent years. These findings seem to support the analysis by Dr Wang and Professor Seifert that better employment policies and sick pay influence unscheduled absence rates.

Organisations shoulder an enormous cost as a result of employee absence and it should be a key concern for all industry sectors across Europe and the rest of the world. The direct cost of absence is often recorded and reported in annual surveys such as the CIPD survey referred to above, but the indirect cost, such as overtime and temporary staff is rarely considered, yet can exceed the direct cost by as much as 200%. On top of this is the negative affect unscheduled and badly managed absence has on employee engagement which can lead to lower productivity and talented employees leaving the business.

So why would an employee call in sick when not actually ill? In the Kronos survey, the most significant reason given in every region was that employees felt stressed and therefore needed a day off. When asked what would prevent this behaviour the main solution given in every region, except France, was that organisations should allow more flexible working. In France the most popular solution was being allowed to take ‘Summer Fridays’ off and make up the time during the week. Other popular solutions included unpaid leave and working from home.

Totally eradicating all forms of unscheduled absence is not possible, but creating an environment where absence can be managed more effectively is achievable. Given visibility and accurate, up-to-date information on employee attendance, organisations can tackle unscheduled and scheduled absence, its costs, and its effects on business performance more easily across the globe.

Throughout my career in Workforce Management I regularly see dramatic drops of unscheduled absence between 20 to 40% in most organisations as they deploy an automated solution, quite a surprise when the initial conversation often starts with “We are sure there is no issue here, we don’t have a culture of people pulling sickies”.

Find out more and download a copy of the Kronos Global Absence Survey here or Watch our Global Absence video

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