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Over 8 million workers call in sick due to 'painful jobs'

Kalila Sangster
·3-min read
Black woman drinking hot tea and feeling comfortable
National Sickie Day: The first Monday in February is the most popular day of the year to pull a sickie, according to some surveys. Photo: Getty

At least 8.6 million UK workers called in sick in 2019 because they found their jobs “too painful,” a new survey has found.

A quarter of people said they had taken a sick day in the last year because of dissatisfaction with their jobs, according to research by IT company Insight, based on a Kantar survey of 1,250 working adults, done over a week in January this year.

Respondents gave feeling overworked, poor systems and processes making it hard to get work done, and conflicts with workmates as reasons for pulling a sickie.

Insight said the research highlighted “serious issues within organisations' culture” and called for more flexible working.

However, 37% of employees said they had come into work in the past year despite feeling unwell.

Many said this was because they could not afford unpaid sick leave or did not want to use up a paid sick day. Others said they did not want to feel judged by their boss or colleagues.

Meanwhile, around 6.5 million workers said they would be happy to work from home when sick but their employers would not allow it.

READ MORE: Workers took almost 52m sickies in 2019 — costing the UK £5.6bn

The typical worker's number of sick days fell to 5.9 in 2019, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development — the lowest in the 19-year history of its annual survey of HR professionals.

The first Monday in February is the most popular day of the year to pull a sickie, according to some surveys, with an estimated 215,000 doing so last year, leaving employers unsure whether workers are telling the truth or not.

Employment law firm Elas predicted this years’ ‘National Sickie Day’ will cost employers £34m ($44m) in absenteeism.

However, in 2019, Elas said it had found other days with higher absence rates. It said the top 10 days for absence last year all fell on a Monday, with 16 September coming in top. The most common reasons given were stomach trouble (24%), cold, cough and flu (16%), and headache (7%).

Separate research by commercial property agents Savoy Stewart found that the most common reason employees felt the need to lie about pulling a sickie was due to needing a mental health day (20%) — highlighting the growing problem of poor mental health among UK workers.

READ MORE: Poor mental health costs UK employers £45bn a year

Some respondents said they did not feel that it would be accepted as a legitimate reason by their manager.

“Employers have a duty of care to their employees to look after their safety and wellbeing, and this includes their physical and mental health,” Tom Neil, Acas senior adviser, told the BBC.

“For people to be able to be honest about how they feel at work, good work practices including having an inclusive culture and effective people management are key.”