National Sickie Day: Not to be sneezed at

If you're finding the office unusually quiet today then you're not alone: 375,000 UK office workers are set to call in sick this morning.

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 18 Jul 2011
Such is the nation’s lack of verve on the first Monday in February that for the last few years it’s been dubbed ‘national sickie day’. Never mind that overwhelming slackness has to be one of the least suitable subjects for national commemoration (what next, a Top Gear-inspired ‘Rudeness towards Mexicans’ day?).

So what’s the reason for this office boycott? A combination of lasting post-Christmas blues, prolonged by the grey weather and continued economic uncertainty; the flu epidemic, which provides perfect cover for the healthy yet unmotivated; and, bizarrely, financial worries after Christmas. Surely the latter at least should make people more susceptible to the argument for getting off your behind and hiking into the office.

Given the largest flu epidemic in a decade, it may seem a bit cynical to tarnish people with the skivers’ brush, accusing them of chucking ‘a sickie’ under false pretences. Yet it turns out half of our bosses reckon they don’t always believe the sick calls they get.

This is all according to research by business advisers ELAS, who argue that these days it’s simply easier to get away with throwing a sickie. Bosses have ‘drifted’ into accepting that morning call via text messages and emails, so wily staff don’t even need to put on the deliberately gruff voice (or flushing the loo as they hang up) when pulling a fast one. They just need to convey feebleness in their typing.

ELAS reckons today’s sicky trend will cost the economy more than £32m in lost work and business opportunities, as well as salaries and overtime payments.

While it’s hard to condone people shirking work when there’s plenty of others out there who’d love the chance to do it, you can’t help thinking that if people need a break that badly then management probably has some work to do. The most effective answer may be to take steps to keep people’s chins up. Let your workforce know you value their contribution – a message that’s easily lost in times when the numbers seem to matter more. (Here are ten ideas, for a start).

Recruitment consultant Badenoch & Clark recently ran a study of morale among UK workers. It found that 10% named their primary motivation for going to work as spiralling debt, while a fifth said the reason they go to work in the morning was routine alone. Perhaps encouraging a healthier form of motivation would inject these blues-filled February Mondays with a heartier zest...

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