SME staff admit to faking sick days to help cope with an “always on” culture

SME staff admit to taking bogus sick days to help them cope with culture of presenteeismOne in seven SME employees admit to feigning illness and taking at least three bogus sick days off each year in order to cope with a culture which expects them to be available all the time. Nearly half (42 percent) of staff who are pulling sickies do so because they need a rest as just under half (46 percent) of SME employees bother to use up their full holiday allowance. At the end of 2016, SMEs employed 15.7 million people and accounted for 99 percent of all private sector businesses. Due to the piling pressure on small business owners, half (51 percent) of the 1,500 British SME workers and business owners who were polled by breatheHR confessed to contacting an employee while they were on sick leave – this number jumps to 72 percent for younger business owners (18-34-year-olds) showing clear generational differences. Additionally, three-quarters (71 percent) of business owners would expect employees to work if they had a common cold. Why? Because absenteeism impacts the bottom line – 85 percent of business owners say it has an economic effect.

Jonathan Richards, CEO, at breatheHR comments: “We’re facing a costly absence epidemic. At a time when the government is attempting to decipher the ‘productivity puzzle’, over two million people are calling in sick when they are in fact not. Imagine if that number was halved, what uptick in economic performance would that deliver to the UK economy and SMEs?”

Richards adds: “Absence has a big impact on small companies, but it’s an area that is often overlooked or poorly managed. With the right support tools in place, SMEs can reduce business admin and free up more time to create a culture where sickies simply don’t occur. This report shines a light on how absence impacts employees, employers and the wider business ecosystem.”

Other key findings include:

  • 20 percent of 18-34-year-olds respond to work emails when off sick due to guilt – more than any other age range
  • One in five (19 percent) pulled a sickie to avoid a situation at work, such as a stressful meeting – with more men than women likely to revert to a sickie (22 percent vs 15 percent)
  • One in three managers have contacted staff while on holiday (36 percent)

Richards concludes: “The results are striking for how contradictory we are as people: employees aren’t taking their full holiday allowance but then phone in sick in order to have a ‘rest day’, and then check emails avidly. Unintentionally managers at small businesses are creating a culture where it is expected that employees are always available. So, what does this all mean for productivity?

“Business owners need to consider how their behaviour impacts others. Just because you’re happy to be contacted on holiday, doesn’t mean that should become the established norm. The impact is snowballing – again leading to absence in the form of preventable sickness – which costs business in terms of needing to invest both in cover and productivity.”

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