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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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News: study suggests mismatched employer/employee perceptions around sick leave


 A new study points to a difference in perception between UK employers and employees over sick leave in the workplace.

“Looking Ahead,” released by Adecco Retail, found that while 87 percent of employers think employees shouldn’t work at home when ill, 31 percent of employees think employers expect them to do so.

And despite the idea there’s a ‘culture of sick leave’ across the UK, nine out of ten (87 percent) of employers are not suffering from high levels of employee sick leave.

Employers revealed that most sick leave requested by employees is for genuine illness. Ninety percent of employers said employees were taking time off for colds and flu, whereas just 10 percent said workers were taking sick leave for a holiday.

Broken down by sector, employers working in professional services experienced the least concern over sick leave – 96 percent said they didn’t have a problem. At the other end of the spectrum, 28 percent – more than twice the average – of employers in HR said they suffered high levels of sick leave.

Over half (53 percent) of employers would prefer sick colleagues to stay at home rather than coming into work.

Despite relatively low sickness levels across the board, 17.3 percent of employers have no procedures in place to promote better health in the workplace.

Other findings of the research:

  • Every single employer surveyed said that phoning in to explain sickness is acceptable, while less than a quarter said an email would suffice
  • Over a third of employers (39 percent) believe employees can do less than half the work of a normal healthy day when sick
  • More than half (52 percent) of employers believe sickness has a real impact on business activity
  • Mid-size businesses (100-249 employees) have the biggest issues with employees taking sick leave (20.8 percent). This drops to seven percent for SMEs

Steven Kirkpatrick, Managing Director at Adecco Retail, said: “The findings from the survey suggest that employers are actually quite relaxed about their employees taking sick leave. Rather than having them struggle through the working day and potentially make themselves and their colleagues worse, employers would rather their teams take sufficient time to rest and recover. We have found that often employees perceptions and employers expectations on sick leave do not match up. Employers therefore need to clarify how they expect an ill employee to conduct themselves.

“Whilst sickness is not currently a significant issue for UK employers, the apparent complacency amongst some towards maintaining a healthy workplace is worrying. Through introducing basic improvements such as workplace hygiene and work station assessment, employers can ensure sick days continue to be kept to a minimum.”

For the HR function, matching perceptions over sick leave is key to mitigate the effect of ill health on the business and also ensure employees do not feel pressure to come to work when ill, which can lead to feelings of resentment.

With these types of policies, change is best implemented from above, with key managers making sure they do not ‘work through illness’ and that the business culture does not reward those that do so to the detriment of other staff members. Employee feeling can be very strong: the survey revealed that in the Sales and Media sectors, 70 percent of employees believe they should be rewarded for not taking sick leave.

With regard to workplace health, policies around health and fitness are not only preventative programmes, although of course there’s value in trying to reduce the incidence of sick leave (even if it is low in the first place). Health and wellbeing policies are important when it comes to employee engagement and the overall culture of the firm.

Author Profile Picture
Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence

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