Solving the sickie epidemic

November 5, 2010, 9:36 am David Koch KBB

But the sickie culture in Australia is getting out of hand and it is costing SME's in a big way.

Some wayward people think chucking a sickie is the Australian way of life. It’s considered something that everyone does and often something you deserve. But the sickie culture in Australia is getting out of hand and it is costing SME’s in a big way.

These days the average worker takes 9.3 days of sick leave a year. That’s an 8 per cent increase on two years ago. It’s costing the Australian economy roughly $30 Billion each year in lost productivity. What used to be a bit of a joke has now become a serious issue for Aussie businesses who are already struggling.

Australia has come out of a financial crisis in pretty healthy economic shape, but it seems that the smooth sailing is not being felt within offices around the country. Employees continue to feel the pressures of a workplace overcoming recession and businesses that are still understaffed. Research has found that sickies are being taken more often because workers are feeling burnt-out, stressed and overworked.

The biggest culprits of the sickie are call centre workers, union members and workers with young kids. Not surprisingly younger workers of Gen Y were a lot more likely to take a fake sickie than their older colleagues. Managers estimate that around 25% of sick days are not genuine, especially seeing that the huge majority occur on a Monday.  

As a small business owner you may have heard your fair share of sickie excuses in your time. Some of the most common include a severe headache, food poisoning, broken alarm clock and issues with public transport. A few of the stranger excuses that came up in the research were: “my finger got stuck in a bowling ball”, “couldn’t find my shoes”, and “I forgot I was getting married today”.

The most common genuine reasons for a sickie are real, contagious illness, loss of a family member, household emergency or a family-related issue.

So the problem for small business managers is how do you deal with the sickie epidemic?

The solution can start in your workplace relationships and treatment of staff. Much of the blame for the rise of sickies is related to staff being overworked and over-stressed. So make sure you are in open communication with your workers about their health, well-being, workload and stress levels. Be reasonable and understanding, and make sure your workplace is somewhere they feel they can be honest.

Treating staff fairly and considerately is another approach that will help keep you staff in the office. Research showed a lot of sickie-takers skipped work because they didn’t feel they were being treated right in the office. Make sure you staff understand their importance- for an SME more than anywhere their attendance most likely is vital on a daily basis. This way your employees won’t feel like they can rip you off by taking a day off.

If you really want to get rid of the dishonesty of taking a sickie you want to create a work environment where your employees don’t feel they have to lie to you. If they have a genuine need for a day off, even if they’re not sick, be lenient and understanding, because forcing them to be in the office in a stressed state of mind is counter-productive. It may be worth giving the extra day in order to have a better employee the next.