• Coach Kate

Wellbeing At Work: National Sickie Day - is it a thing?

Monday is National Sickie Day as according to reports the first Monday in February is the day most likely for British employees to take a sick day. 375,000 of them apparently.

But is this actually the case? can 1 day really account for this and why is it the 1st Monday in February? And why should businesses care?

Firstly, yes you should care whether you run your own business, are in senior leadership or a manager - hell even if you are an employee, as sickness absence costs the UK economy £16 billion! Not to mention the pressure that the rest of the team are put under when someone is off sick, whether that's for a day or several months.

Secondly, the date not true, as according to BrightHR, the traditional date of National Sickie Day is only 14th on the Sick Day List. The day most likely for us to call in sick is in fact Monday 12th December. With little wonder being towards the end of the year, deep, dark winter and with Christmas looming.

The savvy amongst you (which, let's face it, is all of you) will have noted that it's still a Monday - that seems to be our favourite day to call in sick accounting for 25% sickness absences logged.

So - how can you make your team's Mondays feel just as good as their Fridays? (See what I did there!)

I sincerely hope that the pandemic has taught organisations that their employee wellbeing can no longer be a mere tick box exercise. Everyone has struggled in some form at some point which needs to not only be recognised but learnt from so that we can work better.

For a moment let's go back in time to the heady pre-pandemic days when the most common reasons given for taking time off would be:

  • cough

  • cold

  • flu

Of course Covid-19 has slightly hijacked these reasons, however, as begin to learn to live with coronavirus we are in danger of returning to these main reasons.

Why am I calling this a danger?

Well - often employees use these reasons to take sick days but they are not telling their employers the real reason. In a recent poll over 1000 employees said that their real reasons were:

  • tiredness

  • poor mental health

  • just not feeling like it

Until we make mental health (both good & bad) socially acceptable to talk about and to proactively and positively action at work, employees will continue to hide their true sickness absences due to fear of repercussions.

In my previous experience in HR and now as a wellbeing specialist and coach I have been told countless times by employees that they don't want to reveal the 'real reason' behind their sick leave.

There are numerous reasons as to why they are concerned ranging from the fear that they will be passed over for promotion, not given the same chances with certain projects or clients, be ostracised or even dismissed.

This was me

In a previous career I hit my 'rock bottom' with burn out and lived in fear of losing my job despite struggling to even get up in the morning to go there.

The biggest shock for me was this had been a company I had been so proud to work for, I adored the people and mostly loved what I did.

For several years I hid my struggles, my misery and the depths of my anxiety and depression from everyone around me including, at times, from myself.

I convinced my self the issues were not work but a failing relationship, not seeing enough of friends and family (due to work pressure), me feeling a 'a bit off' - you name it I had it as an excuse.

And then I started to take time off because I literally could not get out of bed. I had the Sunday creeping dread of another week starting and just couldn't face Monday so called in sick more and more.

I had been one of those people who used to come into work with a cold, cough, half a leg missing if needs be. Taking sick days was enough of an alarm bell for my boss to ask what was going on.

I panicked

Despite him handling it well (albeit a bit too late in the day for me) I panicked and didn't say what was fully happening. I lied and said I had got it under control.

I was so scared of losing a job I had now begun to hate because I didn't believe I could do anything else or that anyone else would hire me.

Madness, I know. But a reality so many people I talk to and work with face every Monday to Friday.

What can businesses do?

So much! The following are the obvious pitfalls I come across when working with organisations on how to improve their workplace wellbeing offerings to their team - see if any resonate for you and where you work:

Shout Out Some More

Many organisations offer fantastic wellbeing support, however, often employees don't know much about it or how to access it.

If you have support then make sure your team know about it, how to get it and make it easy to do so. Keep reminding them of this until you are blue in the face as we tend not to take much notice of these things until we really need it.

Get Some

Perhaps you don't have much to shout out about. If not then it is high time your company looked at what it should offer your people. At the very least health insurance and an employee assistant programme will offer reassurance and support to employees.

Build from there by having someone like myself run a full wellbeing audit on your team so that you can discover what your people need and want, what's currently working and where the monumental gaps are.

Give Some

More and more businesses are offering additional leave to sick days such as Recovery Days after a particularly stressful time or Mental Health Days to help employees who may be coping with poor mental health or (like me) just need to take some time to re-set.

Interestingly, so many more managers and leaders I talk to are insisting that their team members take time off to fully recover from any illness as they have seen rates of presenteeism shoot up during the pandemic (don't worry - I'll be exploring this in another article - fun fun fun!)

Lose Some

Judgement. Gossip. Stigma. We all know that creating an inclusive and accepting work culture starts from the top down and we've all come across leaders who appear to extol the virtues of their stigma-free workplace but will say the most un-PC things imaginable.

Even if you think someone needs to 'toughen up' or 'just deal with it' or 'that's how we work here' - keep it to yourself - everyone's struggle is real and individual to them.

Final Thoughts

Even with National Sickie Day no longer being National Sickie Day we are still facing rising absenteeism. Yes this affects business, how people work and the bottom line, however, this is more than that, this is about how organisations can look after their people - because that is what are talking about here - people, managers, colleagues, humans. Let's be good ones.


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