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Pulling a Sickie - Young v Old?

It’s Monday. And where I am the weather is wet and miserable. As I write this, all round the UK, sufferers of Chronic Monday-itis will be tucking themselves firmly back into their duvets and casting around for an excuse not to go to work. And very tedious it is for those of us who do pitch up day in, day out, even when we feel a bit grotty and under the weather.

The top reasons for calling in sick are:

  • It’s Monday …
  • Too tired to get up
  • Felt I deserved a day off due to working hard recently
  • Just didn’t want to go in
  • To avoid a colleague
  • Hungover
  • Had something planned and didn’t want to use up holiday

Last week I was asked to contribute to a local radio show which was discussing the findings of a recent survey published by an insurance company, RIAS. The survey showed that younger workers are more likely to pull a sickie that older workers (those over the age of 50). It suggested that over the past five years 44 per cent of workers aged 20-39 had lied to their boss about being ill to get time off, compared with just 12 per cent of those over 50. Nearly a third of under-40s saw sick leave as an ‘additional holiday’ that they deserve. Only a tenth of older employees said the same.

This isn’t news. These findings emerge every few years as someone else does more or less the same survey. And when you think about it, depending on how the questions are posed (you can do anything with statistics) one age group or other is going to tip the balance in this particular case.

Short term sickness absence is one area where Pareto tends to apply – round about 20% of your staff will give you 80% of the trouble. The others will blip a bit occasionally, but are mostly pretty good. But as to young worker versus older ones sicking out? The fact is I have fired at least as many older workers for exactly this type of behaviour as younger workers. Quite often they get caught with their pants down (metaphorically speaking) as we discover via Facebook that they’re having a lovely day shopping, playing golf or whatever and not glued to their bed of pain as alleged.

Back to the RIAS survey. Let’s not get all starry eyed and unrealistic about the fictitious saintly older worker. There are good and bad workers at all ages (all in all colours, nationalities, genders, religions etc).

I dislike these types of surveys. Comparisons are odious and do far more harm than good. They take a cheap shot at a group of employees and don’t suggest anything helpful. Take them with a bucket of low sodium salt.

Age is irrelevant. If you have employees with Chronic Monday-itis make sure you get all the details noted when they call in and then see them before they start work on their return. Someone who’s lying to you has usually forgotten what they’ve said by the time they’ve come back to work and you can explore and ask about any discrepancies in the story.

A well conducted return to work meeting is invaluable for a variety of reasons. You can pick up on and deal with genuine problems. You can express your concerns about the level of absence for employees with poor levels of attendance. Lastly you can start an early discussion about the steps which need to be taken for the employee to achieve and maintain and acceptable level of attendance. Those with Chronic Monday-itis often have no idea how much time off they have taken, or any patters forming. Sharing that information and shining a relentless light onto the attendance record with the employee is often all it takes to get the results you want. If the problem persists follow it up promptly and start down the formal route. The idea is to encourage employees to improve, but if they don’t they will either jump ship or eventually be dismissed.

If you want help sorting out a duvet-hugger with poor attendance or any other HR issue get in touch.

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