One in three workers admits to pulling a sickie

A survey suggests a third of us have lied in order to get a day off work. But perhaps their managers need to take a share of the blame?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 14 Mar 2013
Being a bastion of upstanding nose-to-the-grindstone-ness, MT was naturally shocked and appalled to see a survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers this morning suggesting that more than a third of workers have ‘taken time off under false pretences’ – skived, in other words. But just as we were about to start railing about falling standards, teenage drinking, asbos, etc etc, we noticed something else: the research also showed that six in 10 of said miscreants threw sickies because they’re ‘bored and depressed’ at work. Which means some of this is arguably down to employers…

The survey, of just under 1,200 people, found that 15% of those who skived said they’d been ‘working hard and deserved it’. And, as you’d expect, the reasons behind sickies were many and varied: 18% said they’d thrown one when they had a particularly heinous hangover, while 11% have done it when the weather’s been nice and 5% have done it because of, er, ‘romance’. At the other end of the responsibility scale, 21% said they’d done it because of family commitments – which is, perhaps a little more excusable.

Some of the excuses were laughable. 83% said they’d fobbed their employers off with the traditional ‘I’m ill’ (the most popular sickness being gastric problems, presumably because not many people are comfortable asking for details. Or, come to think of it, proof). But more unusual excuses included being beaten up by a bouncer and a pet rabbit escaping into a fox-infested area.

Interestingly, it seems the office culture has a lot to do with how far workers are willing to push it. Apparently, 5.17 days off is thought to be the average number of sickies one can throw before an employer’s suspicions begin to be aroused, while a third say they’re more likely to take time off if they see their colleagues getting away with it.

You might think that the odd employee taking a day off of their own volition is an occupational hazard of running a business. But it’s an expensive problem: PwC reckons it costs employers £32bn a year. And it’s keen to point out that there are certain measures employers can take to mitigate the impact. You can’t do much about your workers’ romances, after all – or, for that matter, nice weather. But if your employees are taking lots of time off to deal with family issues, it might be time to consider implementing flexible working practices.

As for the ‘bored and depressed’ contingent, that’s more of a challenge. PwC suggests ‘thinking creatively’ about how to get people enthusiastic about their jobs. Easier said than done though, of course…

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