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Common causes of short-term absence – and the most outrageous sick day excuses

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Common causes of short-term absence – and the most outrageous sick day excuses

Workplace absence falls to lowest on record

The Willis Towers Watson Employee Benefits and Wellbeing Barometer found that more than half (51%) of UK workers claim their workplaces are affected by a culture of negative judgement around sickness absence.

This perhaps explains why the number of sick days taken by British workers has fallen to the lowest on record according to official figures revealed by The Office for National Statistics. The average number of sick days taken by UK workers fell to 4.1 days in 2017, in contrast to the 7.2 days recorded in 1993 when the data was first collected.

Taken at face value, these new statistics shed a glowing light on the UK workforce. Does this mean that as a nation we are less sick? Are our stress levels falling? Are we more dedicated and fulfilled at work? Not necessarily.

Presenteeism still a concern for employees

Could sickness absence be low because presenteeism is high? With the economic uncertainty and Brexit hovering like the sword of Damocles, people are afraid to be off sick, so they turn up and turn on – even when genuinely ill.

The Willis Towers Watson Global Benefits Attitudes Survey revealed workers with very good health lost 11.9 days of productivity through presenteeism in one year; workers with good health lost 13.4 days; and workers with poor health lost 15.3 days.

Nobody wants the black mark of high levels of absence on their HR record when job security is a risk factor. In fact, 8 in 10 employers said they had observed staff coming into work while they had been unwell over the last 12 months, according to the CIPD’s annual snapshot of health and wellbeing in the workplace.

The genuine causes of short-term absence

According to the CIPD Health and Wellbeing at Work report, minor illness including colds, flu, stomach upsets, headaches and migraines remain the most common cause of short-term absence (four weeks or less) for the majority of organisations.

Musculoskeletal injuries (back pain, neck strains and repetitive strain injury) and also stress were once again among the top causes of short-term absence.

A third of organisations include mental ill health among their top three causes of short-term absence, continuing the growing trend which emerged last year.

Almost one in three (29%) UK employees suffered with severe stress, anxiety or depression in the past two years (Willis Towers Watson’s Global Benefits Attitudes Survey (GBAS)).

The study found that people who suffer from anxiety or depression take more than twice as much time off work (7.1 days compared to 3 days for workers without the conditions) and more than one in ten (15%) of workers have taken time off or reduced their responsibilities at work due to mental health issues in a two-year period.

The younger generations are more likely to suffer from stress and mental issues than older colleagues.  According to GBAS, 61% of millennials said they were highly stressed, compared to 33% of baby boomers, and more than a third (34%) of millennials said they suffered from anxiety and depression in the past two years, compared to one in five (20%) of baby boomers.

As the years continue, and these workers make up a greater proportion of the worker population, mental ill health will undoubtedly become more of an issue in the future.

Not all absence is genuine

The CIPD Health and Wellbeing at Work report also revealed that compared to previous years, fewer organisations include non-genuine ill health among their top causes of short-term absence. However, there’s no escaping the fact that sickie days and duvet days still take place. Whether it’s to go shopping, catch up on sleep after a heavy night or watch the Wimbledon final, people are still topping up their holiday tally by skiving off.

Although research suggest that January is still the sickliest month of the year, the warmer months will see the rise of the ‘summer sickie’ with workers wanting to make the most of the sun and soaring temperatures – wiling away their days in back gardens and beer gardens – not wilting behind their desks in overheated offices.

So what are the weirdest and most outrageous reasons people hit snooze, roll over then call in sick when they can’t face the work day ahead? Or if they simply have something far more exciting and Instagrammable up their sleeve than the mundanity of work.

Of the 131 million UK sick days, are some so unbelievable they just may be true? Or are culprits taking the proverbial?

Pulling a sickie: the most outrageous excuses for absence

What gives someone the bright idea to tell their boss that they can’t come in because “my uniform caught on fire because I microwaved it” or “my dog is having a nervous breakdown?” Surely it takes imagination, gall and guts to come up with such fairy tales. But both are genuine excuses recorded by a Career Builder survey and Grindstone.

Next time keep it simple – tummy bugs and flu will get you more tea and sympathy than being too upset after watching The Hunger Games – another eye-raising excuse revealed by

Employees should think twice before calling the boss with the lame excuse “my butt hurts” with no further explanation – one of the most outrageous excuses Reddit user Poznacky has ever heard.

A run of the mill headache or better still a migraine would be more plausible – and cause less red faces and sniggers on the return to work.

How do you keep a straight face when you call from your ‘sick bed’ (or should that be sunbed?) to explain that you’ll be off because you “accidentally got on a plane.” Another Career Builder survey classic. Spurred on by a dare, drunkenness or a desire to be fired maybe?

On the vanity scale of excuses, “my plastic surgery needs some tweaking” was recorded as a real reason for absence. Such an excuse would be laughable if it didn’t mean fellow workers had to pick up the pieces of this personal faux-crisis. Not to mention their contribution towards the £77.5 billion a year cost to the UK economy estimated by the ONS.

Hangover cure or secret interview?

Taking a sickie has become so commonplace that there is now a National Sickie Day – in 2019 this was Monday, February 4th. Traditionally the first Monday in February is the day when the greatest number of UK employees take the day off work due to illness – genuine or fake.

While many spend the day nursing a hangover or recovering from genuine illness in bed, others take the day off for interviews. According to Hyper Recruitment Solutions, a quarter of February’s interviews take place on this day. People re-evaluate their life after Christmas and make life-changing New Year – new career resolutions ready for February interviews.

According to Employment Law Experts (ELAS), around 350,000 employees called in sick on the 2017 National Sickie Day costing the UK economy around £45million, thanks to lost hours, wages and overtime.

ELAS revealed the worst three excuses for missing work in 2016 included:

  1. “My only pair of work trousers is in the wash”
  2. “It’s my dog’s birthday and I need to arrange a party for him”
  3. “The dog ate my shoes”

Those pesky pets.

A word of advice

Employees pulling a sickie should be mindful not to do anything too attention-grabbing like the British holidaymaker who tackled a shark on an Australian beach and was hailed a hero. His heroic status was short-lived when he was subsequently sacked after returning home. He was on sick leave at the time.

Workers treating themselves to a duvet day to catch up the latest boxset should avoid bragging about it on social media. They may find an unwelcome P45 on their desk upon return to work. Even if they had genuinely been bitten by a pigeon or their fish was sick.

Please note names have been omitted to protect the guilty but all sick day excuses cited are genuine.