‘Tis the season to be jolly?

12th December 2019 by Charlotte Walker

New research finds that Santa delivers stress and sick leave to UK workers as they juggle demands of care, health and family at Christmas

It may be billed as ‘the most wonderful time of the year’, but for many UK employees the pressures of juggling family, health and care demands alongside work commitments are a cause of major stress, anxiety and unplanned absences from work, according to new research from Benenden Health.

Although a quarter of employees (25%) said unapproved absences from work had been down to over indulgence and the aftermath of the Christmas party, sick days were more widely taken to manage a variety of childcare, personal health and family commitments over the yuletide period.

According to a survey of 1,000 employees and 1,000 UK SMEs undertaken by not-for-profit corporate healthcare provider, Benenden Health, one in eight UK workers (13%) say they have taken unapproved leave at Christmas to manage personal health and family care commitments, and one in five (20%) lied to their employer about the reason for doing so.

The generational gap

The data revealed that the youngest generations were most likely to take unapproved leave at Christmas, with a third of Generation Z workers (31%) and a quarter of Millennials (23%) revealing they have done so in the past compared to just 2% of Baby Boomers.

One in five workers (20%) who have taken unauthorised leave did so as the only way to secure a GP appointment, 18% took days to look after an elderly parent and 16% resorted to sick days to look after their children during school closures.
More than one in seven (15%) of those absent took time off specifically to manage mental health and anxiety issues heightened by the pressures of Christmas, with Millennials suffering the most of all generations (19%).

According to the survey, less than half of all workers (44%) have access to support and flexible working over Christmas to help them cope with the heightened demands of family, health and care commitments.

Reasons for employee sick leave at Christmas

One in seven (15%) businesses confirmed they have experienced greater levels of unapproved absence at Christmas, with some of the most creative reasons given by employees including ‘eating too much Christmas pudding’, ‘thinking they had the week off after the Christmas party’ and ‘losing car keys in the snow’.

According to the survey data, more than a quarter (28%) of employees say their most desired workplace benefit is flexible working, with this topping the wish list for Generation Z, Millennial and Generation X employees. However, only 38% of SMEs offer this - and more than half of all businesses surveyed revealed they have never consulted employees about what they would value in a benefits package.

Helen Smith, Chief Commercial Officer at Benenden Health, said: “We associate Christmas with joy and celebration, but in reality, it can be a really stressful time at work, especially when employees have a significant amount on their plate both inside and outside the workplace.

“By listening to workers and catering for their unique needs – in this instance, offering flexible working over the festive period, especially for younger employees, or having a suitable healthcare policy in place to allow for easy access to medical appointments and GPs for all the family - can minimise stress, absenteeism and ultimately increase the productivity of a workforce and overall performance of a business.”

To download Benenden Health’s guide to managing the needs of a multigenerational workforce, go to: https://www.benenden.co.uk/health-through-your-life

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