Taking a regular sick day used to be the unofficial right of the British office worker. Faced with the prospect of missing a major sporting event or having to deal with a monumental hangover, employees wouldn’t think twice about taking a ‘sickie’ when the occasion called for it. However, working practices, employment law and the business world are changing quickly, and many office workers are now thinking twice before they start to feign illness.
A recent survey by the Canada Life Group revealed that 93% of people would be scared to take time off from work if they were suffering from a cold. This could signify a huge change in attitude towards sickness amongst the British workforce, as sick days were once the preserve of even the most conscientious of workers. Indeed, some contracts quantify a sickness allowance in terms of days, but such arrangements are becoming increasingly rare. There was a time when people considered sick days as simply an extension of their annual holiday entitlement, but these attitudes are now in the minority.
The erosion of worker’s rights combined with attempts to make the labour market more flexible have left many people in a precarious position. It seems that employees are now more concerned about losing their job than ever before, and that phenomenon is having a profound effect on the number of sick days taken in Britain every year. However, changes in employment legislation only tell part of the story.
Since the banking crash of 2007, firms have been struggling to balance their books. The drying up of credit and the resultant recessions have led to redundancies on an almost unprecedented scale. Since the crash, the average number of annual sick days taken by employees in Britain has fallen from 5.6 to 4.1, and that suggests people are keen to do everything in their power to keep their jobs. The days of the sniffle, the sickly tummy and the sore throat may be well and truly numbered.
There is now a certain stigma involved with taking sick days in certain industries. Even genuine absence can be met with the raised eyebrows of colleagues, as their own workloads suddenly increase exponentially. Colds and the flu are no longer considered acceptable reasons for absence; in fact, nothing short of imminent death will appease the workers left to deal with the consequences of employee sickness.
Office workers are split into two groups: the essential and the expendable, and the latter is a far larger collection of employees. Employees who are concerned about the security of their role within an organisation are far more likely to brave a cough or an acute attack of the sniffles in order to make their way to work. It seems that the prospect of unemployment may be the best medicine known to man.