Aon expert Charles Alberts provides his thoughts on National Sickie Day – and looks at how companies can help prevent and manage employee absence.
Statistically, in the UK, the first Monday in February is the day most likely for employees to call in sick – and has subsequently been coined ‘National Sickie Day’1.
Terminology is important. Colloquially, “sickies” have a poor reputation; they imply that the employee is not really ill, or perhaps lying about the nature of their illness. They’re problematic for businesses – difficult to identify and tricky to prevent.
There isn’t a conclusive answer to why so many employees call in sick on the first Monday each February. A quick search throws up a range of suggestions – the first weekend post-payday, a popular day for interviews or employees feeling the combined pressure of business targets and Christmas expenses. However, this doesn’t mean that employers can’t provide support.
Improving employee wellbeing
Unsurprisingly, there is an inherent link between improving employee wellbeing and reducing absence; a proactive, preventative approach to overall wellbeing reduces absenteeism, presenteeism and increases business performance. Historically, the obvious investment for employers has been in physical wellbeing. We’ve seen that businesses have traditionally focused on the individual’s working environment (albeit driven by legislative requirements), and programmes which encourage the core proponents of healthy lifestyles.
But – as National Sickie Day suggests – absence isn’t exclusively caused by physical health issues. Mental health issues are a leading cause of sickness absence; in the UK, 70 million work days are lost each year due to mental health problems. There’s a clear opportunity for employer intervention, with a strong business case for employer-led support; a recent report by Deloitte shows a ROI on reactive mental health support has an ROI of 5:12.
Employers should also consider the root cause of mental health issues when planning their wellbeing programme. The common mental health problems – stress, anxiety and depression – have a range of drivers, and can be triggered by events in an individual’s personal live, or financial concerns. Companies should look at where they can provide practical support (like financial education workshops) at a time when employees need it most. It might be that financial planning workshops run early in the year, will help employees budget their expenditure for typically costly months.
Of course, employers cannot prevent every single illness – but they can facilitate a culture which encourages employees to be honest about the reason for absence. Recent research has shown that over half of employees who took a mental health absence day attributed their absence to a physical condition instead3. Creating a supportive environment for employees with poor mental health can help reduce any stigma associated with mental health illnesses – and reduce instances of mis-reporting. Interestingly, Deloitte’s report shows that organisation-wide culture has the highest ROI across mental health interventions, at 8:1 – although this is, in part, because it is a relatively low-cost investment.
A supportive culture doesn’t just improve employee wellbeing, it also leads to critical insights on employee absence. This data is incredible valuable in driving health and wellbeing strategies; although, according to the latest UK Benefits and Trends survey, only 53% of companies use absence data in this way. There is a really missed opportunity here for companies to provide targeted strategies to employees who need the relevant support available.
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