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Benenden lifts the lid on who is most likely to call in sick

9th November 2015

Are you female, aged 18-24, living in Edinburgh and working in the utilities sector*? According to research released today (November 9th, 2015), you are the most likely UK employee to call in to work sick.

The research, compiled by mutual health and wellbeing provider Benenden, questioned 2,500 people across the UK to take an in-depth look at workplace wellbeing, reasons behind absenteeism and the attitudes of employees and employers towards it.

Physical illnesses are deemed to be the most acceptable reasons for calling in sick, with vomiting (73 percent), diarrhoea (71 percent), and flu (59 percent) high on the list. However, a selection of people (6 percent) believe that feeling ‘under the weather’ is valid even when suffering no specific symptoms.

Surprisingly, only 19 percent of those surveyed said they would feel stress was an acceptable reason to have a day off and an even lower 17 percent of people considered broader mental health issues as a reason not to go into the office. This perhaps suggests that organisations have a lot of work to do to ensure that physical and mental health issues are treated equally in the workplace. Previous studies show that only a third agreed that time off for stress is treated as seriously as time off for physical illness[1], 45 percent of workers say staff are expected to cope without mentioning stress at work[2] and 42 percent of workers believe that in their workplace stress is regarded as a sign of weakness or that they can’t cope[3], suggesting that, worryingly, the stigma behind mental health still very much exists in the workplace.

Top 10 reasons that people think are acceptable to take a sick day:

1. Vomiting

2. Diarrhoea

3. Flu

4. Sickness bug

5. Migraine

6. Stress

7. Mental health

8. Only if hospitalised

9. Head cold

10. Headache

The results of the Benenden research also found that women are more likely than men to call in sick– with 54 percent of women calling in sick compared to 43 percent of men. However, while men appear to take fewer sick days they are more likely to call in sick (14 percent) when feeling tired, under the weather or hungover when compared to women (10 percent).

Absenteeism appears to be more frequent among those aged 18-24, in comparison to the other age groups surveyed. Those aged 18-24 and 25-35 are more likely (12 percent) to have taken more than five sick days in the last year and admitted that they could have gone to work for one or more of those days compared to those aged 35-44 (eight percent), 45-54 (six percent) and 55+ (five percent). Despite taking the largest amount of sick days in comparison to all other age groups, a quarter of both 18-24 and 25-35 year-olds stated that they would have taken more time off work if they had more sick pay.

The research also showed that employers could be neglecting their employees' wellbeing - with over a quarter (28 percent) of employees forced to book a full day off work to go to the doctors and 48 percent of those surveyed feeling that employers don’t care about their physical or mental wellbeing.

These feelings aren’t unwarranted, as Benenden’s study reveals that employers clearly aren’t in touch with their employee’s physical or mental health. The research found that 82 percent of employers don’t contribute to healthcare and 91 percent of employers don’t contribute towards gym memberships or other wellbeing initiatives.

Inji Duducu, Benenden Group People Director, said “There seems to be a clear lack of understanding from some employers in terms of employee well-being. There is a strong commercial case for having a healthy and engaged workforce, yet employers are evidently ignoring the impact that an employee’s physical and mental wellbeing has on productivity, absenteeism and longevity in a company.

With 82 percent not taking out healthcare, companies are short-sighted for not investing in their employee’s health – and with 76 percent of people saying they perform best when they feel good about their health, this will directly impact any company’s bottom line and should not be ignored.

Among the 2,500 employees questioned in the study, half believe that if their employer was more engaged with their wellbeing it would make them want to do a better job. As employers, it makes sense to talk about workplace wellbeing and take positive steps to support and maintain good employee mental and physical health.”

For further details on the research read our National Health Report 2015 here.


* Working in waste treatment, sanitation or the supply of electricity, gas and water

[1] Mind (2013a) Populus poll of 2,060 adults in England and Wales in employment

[2] Mind (2013a) Populus poll of 2,060 adults in England and Wales in employment

[3] Mind (2013a) Populus poll of 2,060 adults in England and Wales in employment