The real cost of staff absences – National Sickie Day

Ever pulled a sickie?

It’s alright, there’s no shame here.

In fact, you’d actually be among the 56% of UK adults who did so last year.

That’s according to a new survey from Instaprint, as reported in Business Insider; the same source that forecasts there could be a whopping 3.6 million staff absences on the 6th of February.

But “..why then?” you ask. 

Well, this particular Monday is National Sickie Day

But what do these absences cost the employer? And, perhaps more importantly, could they be avoided in the first place?

Well grab a mug of something warm and get snuggled under your duvet, it’s time to take the temperature on “sickies”.

How much are staff absences costing employers?

According to XpertHR (as reported in People Management), sickness absence rates reached 3.1% in 2021; the highest it’s been since 2009. 

This works out as an average of 7.3 sick days a year per employee at a cost of £781 each. 

Sound like a lot? It is. 

More so when the employer doesn’t measure the impact of its absences. 

But even today, when KPIs are so fundamental to business operations, this oversight’s more common than you’d think. 

Research from Group Risk Development suggests that although 85% of employers record staff sickness, only 63% actually measure the impact on their business.

Unsurprising, really. Especially when there’s no one way to do it. 

So how can you measure the impact of staff absences?

So although there’s no standard measure for the impact of absences, there are a few tried-and-tested metrics you can use. A good process includes a combination of:

  • Tracking attendance records – this basic method can help identify patterns of absenteeism, e.g. how frequently staff are absent and how long they’ve been away.
  • Measuring productivity – this can be done by comparing the amount of work completed by staff members who are present to the amount completed by staff members who are absent.
  • Assessing customer satisfaction – you can do this by surveying customers to determine whether or not they’ve noticed a dip in service quality during periods of high staff absences.
  • Calculating the cost of absenteeism – try estimating the cost of replacing absent staff members, including the cost of overtime pay, temporary staff and lost productivity.
  • Running employee engagement surveys – these can measure everything from employee engagement levels to job satisfaction. You could also use mood fracking software to check in on staff morale. Consequently, these findings may be able to help you understand any high periods of absence.

As good as this data is, though, it’s still just crunching the numbers. Without a layer of context and human emotion behind the figures, can data ever tell you the whole story? 

It’s doubtful.

In fact, dig a little deeper and there’s a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to “pulling a sickie”. 

Are employees making up for the lost time?

There’s no denying it: WFH has blurred the lines for a lot of us. 

For many, it was hard enough to keep a healthy work-life balance in the office – let alone remotely, 

But when employees really needed a sick day – you know, during a global pandemic for instance – did they take it?

Not if the stats are anything to go by.

There’s evidence to suggest that when employees were actually sick, many of us just cracked on 

According to the research by Instaprint (as reported by London Loves Business), up to a third of UK adults (32%) didn’t call in sick at work once in 2020. 

In fact, a fifth of Brits (21%) said they’d actually be less likely to call in sick now. 

The truth is that remote working has likely led many people to carry on doing their day-to-day whilst recovering; which you’d never get away with in the office, would you? Not if you had a conscientious manager, anyway. 

Perhaps even more worrying is the 60% of employees who said they feel pressured to head to work when sick since covid hit.

But with some distance from the pandemic – a period that put a lot of things in perspective for many – are staff simply making up for lost time?


After all, you can’t put a price on your mental health. 

Stigma vs. sickie – battle of the bunk

Whether you live for your job or it’s a bit of a grind, we all need a day off now and again. A bit of time spent tuned out is just the ticket for keeping our motivation up and the motor running – right?

Well, not every employee seems to think so.

There’s evidence to suggest that although 72% of British employees believe an annual holiday is good for their well-being, only 34% say their company encourages them to take it.

But let’s face it, employers have a responsibility to do so. Especially when it’s estimated that 13.7 million workdays are lost every year in the UK due to work-related stress, anxiety, and depression. Workers are paying the price with their mental health and it’s costing employers £28.3 billion in lost productivity.

Unfortunately, Action Mental Health believes there’s still a stigma around mental health in the workplace – despite a growing link between the two. 

“…. employers feel that any mention of a mental health problem means a member of staff will be absent long term. Whilst taking a longer period of sickness is true for some cases such as stress, anxiety or depression, others who are finding it difficult to cope with mounting pressure may simply need a day off to martial their feelings. In these instances, it is worth employers having a long hard think about allowing time off,” the organisation says. 

The move towards mental health holidays 

Research suggests that 90% of employers introduced some sort of mental well-being support during the pandemic – and that’s great. 

But mental health doesn’t discriminate. And it isn’t afraid to strike us down under “normal” circumstances too.

So what can employers do to support staff and reduce “sickies”?

It’s simple: normalise mental health days

A survey of 2,000 workers agrees too; the study revealed that almost 80% of respondents thought having a mental health day would help them be more productive at work. What’s more, 64% said that they’d be more inclined to work for a place that offered those kinds of benefits. 

Essentially, it’s a win-win for staff and employers. 

After all, if a single mental health holiday reduces the risk of longer absences – or even resignation – down the line, isn’t it worth the investment? 

We reckon so. And employers are in the best position to help. Especially considering a high percentage of staff are still scared to speak up about mental health; in fact, some are even worried that doing so might jeopardise their careers

So maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to chastise the sickie and start focusing on the reasons behind it instead. 

Not every bunk’s a Bueller’s day off.