Staying in bed for the summer…. would you do a duvet day?
Authors: Karen Steadman
02 July 2014
As is common this time of year, when the sun shining, and national sports heroes are playing late into the night, a new survey has come out looking at whether these factors lead to people calling in sick – legitimately or otherwise.
A survey from Price Waterhouse Coopers, released today, conducted with 2,000 UK adults found that the most popular reasons behind lying or exaggerating to take time off work included: hangovers (32%), watching a sporting event (8% rising to 13% for men) - and good weather (11%), with attending job interviews another biggie (26%). The report also noted some of the less common, and more… creative excuses, including a rash from overeating strawberries (a common Wimbledon peril), and one male who told his boss he had started the menopause.
With England’s early exit from the World Cup, the sickie fears in the media have abated, but how much of an issue was it anyway? Well, not as much as the above figure might imply – though many of us may very well have taken a day or two off at some point for spurious reasons, it is estimated that just 12% of absence isn't genuine (though employers suspect it is much higher). Of course we can’t be sure – being largely dependent on honest employee self-reports it’s very difficult to measure this with any accuracy, and there are a number of factors which blur the boundaries of genuine and unfounded sickness absence. Indeed, calling in sick with a reason which isn’t actually the true reason for your absence doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not sick – for example, studies by Mind have shown that many employees are reluctant to tell their employer they are stressed or have poor mental health, preferring to provide a physical health reason instead.
Occupying this fuzzy space between what an individual or their employer might see as a ‘genuine’ sickness absence and what is not, increasingly we see people talk about ‘duvet days’. An import from the United States (though I’ve also come across them in Australia, known as a ‘mental health day’), Duvet days, basically, are for when you’re not feeling great, but not quite “sick”. So, perhaps an employee has woken up feeling dreadful, maybe due to a bad nights sleep or a really stressful week at work (or perhaps because they’ve stayed out the previous night a little bit longer than they should’ve done) and know that if they went into work, they would'nt perform well. That person could come in at 9am as normally required and achieve little, or of course they could call in sick, do no work, and probably feel terribly guilty about it. Alternatively, if their employer permits flexibility – they may be allowed to take the morning to sort themselves out and start working productively a little later in the day, perhaps working to a later hour to make up the time, or they may be able to work from home and avoid the commute to work and a day in the office environment, or they may take a duvet day, with their boss knowing that their team member is genuinely not feeling quite up to working, that the have been straight with them about it, and are committed to completing their work tasks when they are feeling a bit more with it.
Some people question whether ‘duvet days’ and other flexibilities can work in a range of work environments. The truth is, it’s not always easy to make it work, but there are many examples of such arrangements being put into place in various environments, for example, in call centres. A bit of commitment, creativity and learning from other industries can go a long way.
Also in this space we see emergency leave, which is perhaps less about employee productivity, but more often about giving leeway to employees in light of their out of work responsibilities and commitments, which mean they may require some time away from work at short notice – for example, a medical appointment, or a child with a temperature. In many cases, employers don’t have any scope for allowing annual leave to be taken at short notice, leaving people with little option but to take a ‘sickie’. Again, showing a little flexibility to account for an employee having a life outside of work can make a considerable difference.
There is no doubt that people taking time off work costs businesses some money. Sickness absence, legitimate or otherwise, is only one bit of the picture – in actuality, the costs gained by employers through staff working unpaid overtime unpaid overtime may even surpass the costs of absence! Also, on the other side of the coin, is the fact that many people come to work when they are ill (presenteeism), which can actually be more costly to employers in terms of productivity (see here and here).
So, with all this in mind, from a business perspective, embracing these flexibilities, and allowing managerial discretion to permit the odd duvet day here and there may be more positive than it first seemed – it is a way of supporting staff to work when they are at their most productive, rather than simply having them as a worn out presence in the workplace. Of course there will always be concerns that employees might take advantage of such flexibilities and freedoms, but employees are adults, and it pays to treat them as such – show people some trust, and see how it’s repaid.
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