Sickness absence – what do your team mates think?


It’s almost the end of the season here in France. Talking to colleagues the other evening we all commented how fit and healthy we were feeling, despite having a busy few months. Looking at our team as a whole, it was interesting to see how healthy we really have been over the last 4 ½ months.

Now to put this into perspective, we are a team of 11 people, 45% of whom are aged over 40 years, with the two oldest people being in their mid 50s. Gender wise we split 45% male and 55% female. Typically if we were like the average UK workforce as a team we would have lost somewhere around 15 to 30 days through sickness absence over the season, depending what industry sector you choose to benchmark us against. Would you be surprised to hear that between all 11 of us, we have only lost 2 ½ days due to sickness absence?

Some of you will know doubt point out that there is bound to be some seasonal variation to consider, as after all we are in sunny France. That could be true but then the first two weeks of the season were cold and wet, but none of us took time off with colds / flu / respiratory infections.

So what do we put our low sickness rate down to? Having discussed it with colleagues, their views were:

• We are getting plenty of exercise, vitamin D and fresh air, so are generally keeping healthier than back in the UK.
• If someone is ill the rest of the team have to pick up the work. It makes you think twice before deciding that you are too sick to work that day.
• The work still needs doing, so a day’s sick today means extra work tomorrow – perhaps it’s not worth it?
• We only get statutory sick pay, so it’s not worth being sick – we might as well soldier on and do a bit of work rather than none at all.

Certainly a case in point is how others in the team respond to their colleagues being ill. Early in the season, one of the younger team members, L, took a day off with a terrible hangover. L didn’t tell his manager he was off work due to a hangover but everyone in the team knew the reason why. Without prompting various colleagues let L know how disappointed they were with him and how they weren’t prepared to pick up his work again if he made a habit of this. A rather shame faced L came back to work the next day and has not taken a day off sick since (despite a few other heavy drinking nights).

Perhaps something to think about the next time you identify that your sickness rates are higher than you would like them to be. Maybe your team can help, rather than it being a management issue?

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