7 November 2019

When ‘Throwing a Sickie’ Needs Special Medicine

“Absence Management” is a priority issue for UK business, especially SMEs.  In 2017, absenteeism cost businesses £570 per employee in salary alone based on an average sickness absence at 6.1 days or 2.8% of working days per employee. (Figures from an analysis by XpertHR).

The Stress of Empty Deskers

There is a clear financial cost of absence, but it can also result in workplace disruption and negativity, from colleagues who are left to cover extra work.

Of course, some of us will be genuinely unwell and have a valid reason for not coming to work; however, there are other reasons for feigning illness and having sporadic days off.

For time-pressured leaders and managers in SMEs, having to fill the sickness gaps adds inordinately to the pressures of the workplace. What’s more, if absenteeism is affecting key staff who are more difficult to replace, or recruit part time cover for, it is much more cost effective to investigate “reasons why” early, especially if a once reliable staff member suddenly starts to take time off sick.

Drilling down to the root cause

Genuine illness aside, finding the real reasons for absenteeism will save costs in the long term. Anyone managing an HR function will tell you that the most common excuses for time off work are, in no particular order: back pain, depression, workplace stress and flu. These are the ailments recorded on sick notes, but in non-genuine cases, what are the symptoms really masking?

The Seven Sickly reasons for faking illness

  1. Emotional crisis, i.e. end of relationship or going through a divorce
  2. Conflict with another member of staff
  3. A stressful / or difficult / or boring project / role at work
  4. Holiday entitlement being refused or not wanting to use holiday entitlement
  5. Caring for someone at home such as a poorly spouse, child, relative or pet
  6. Hangover or physical exhaustion caused by partying or addiction
  7. Just wanting a day off or to lie in bed a bit longer

Although none of the above are legitimate reasons for faking sickness, all of them could indicate the employee needs some support. For example, tiredness can be self-inflicted, but it can also mean overwork or a struggle with alcohol and other addictions. Relationship and debt problems too are often far more debilitating than the flu, in spite of the fact they’re not valid excuses for a sick note; and conflict with someone else at work can create such high levels of stress that everyone in the vicinity of the sparring individuals are affected creating a toxic environment.

Soft touch or hard line approach?

A charitable approach is to consider that some situations can plunge any of us into a downward spiral and we all appreciate being given a bit of slack.

Having a more caring focus on employee well-being and health promotion is a proven method that helps leaders and managers avoid non-genuine absence problems and support people to balance work in a way that minimises impact on other staff and the bottom line. Other benefits include greater commitment and increased staff loyalty from the individuals you have helped.

A tougher approach is to look for any excuse to show a persistent absentee the door. This tactic could easily backfire, especially if you have no concrete evidence of sick pay abuse and could cost you time and money dealing with litigation for an unfair dismissal claim.

Looking at behaviours, not excuses

My company, Carol Barwick Learning and Development (CBLD) Ltd specialises in leadership and management coaching, staff training, and mediation. Uniquely, we look at business challenges from a “behaviour” standpoint, and mediate using a powerful hands-on approach.

By careful examination of toxic or sickly workplace symptoms such as conflict, gossip, stress overload, failing sales or quality control mistakes, my company can help you locate the source of absenteeism and apply the right treatment.

Transforming people and profitability costs very little

Often, some minor adjustments are all that are needed to turn a problem business environment into a happy, productive and profitable place. Dialogue between employees and managers can help address a difficult situation before it becomes a bigger problem. For example, an employee might need to restructure their hours to allow them to meet care needs for a child or relative undergoing hospital treatment; such empathy creates a good work environment which means employees are less likely to wake up and think ‘I don’t feel like going in to work today’.

Low mood to high performance

Poor leadership or perhaps unnecessarily repetitive work can cause low morale with staff seeing no benefit in doing anything but the minimum. Boring jobs with no variety cause mental exhaustion (leading to physical tiredness) where staying under the duvet is preferable to turning up to work. A tiny tweak in a daily routine could make all the difference. CBLD Ltd provides training to help managers recognise areas they could make easy and effective adjustments to as well as to think more creatively and inspirationally; motivating staff, supporting and building resilience into the team at every level.

Managing Conflict

Vitally, CBLD has proven expertise in effective mediation strategies for many leading North East companies. Sometimes juggling the demands of home and work creates the perfect storm of conflict and vendetta-making in the office. CBLD are experts at transforming tense and strained workplace relationships by structuring effective dialogue as well as applying a powerful toolbox of techniques proven to reduce conflict. Uniquely this includes hypno-coaching to develop mutual understanding; empowering people to see what control they have over the situation.

The results are proven and phenomenal, enabling people with different ways of working and different personalities to discover real cooperation; agreeing a contract going forward with the other person and reducing stress levels for everyone involved.

Here’s just some of our mediation testimonials:

We required a mediation service that would work for us. Carol listened to what we needed, developed and implemented a personalised plan and carried that plan out.

Working closely with team members meant that careful, insightful and effective work was carried out, service improvements were made and those improvements are still evident today six months later.”

“We were dealing with a very sensitive issue between two colleagues which had been impacting on the broader team. Carol worked with the individuals on a 121 basis and then brought them together to discuss the concerns and issues they faced so they could understand how they were making each other feel and the impact this was having on their colleagues.

“The difference that the sessions have made is truly amazing. Three months have passed since the mediation and their colleagues have commented on the team ethos, their behaviour and attitudes being different and how both of them are now working together instead of against one another.”

  1. Managing Difficult Conversations
  2. Understanding & Managing Conflict, Threat and Violence
  3. Understanding and Managing Challenging Behaviour
  4. Influencing Others and Developing Relationships
  5. Building Trust at Work

In summary:

Well-defined job roles, flexible working, challenging but realistic targets, and support and training all help achieve the best for your business. When you can engage staff with the broader mission of the company, helping them see how their role contributes to it, demonstrating they matter as people, and not just as their job title, you are doing as much as you can to find that balance between supporting staff wellbeing and taking firm, fair action to stop sick pay abuse.

Contact me for full course outlines bespoke to your business.