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Study reveals different attitudes to sickness absence between men and women

25th May 2011

A study released yesterday by Benenden Healthcare Society reveals that women 'pull more sickies' than men.

Researchers found blokes fail to make it to the office for a total of five months during their career while women take seven months of sick days, with stomach bugs, dizziness and full on viruses the most common ailments keeping them bed-bound.

But despite the figures, it emerged women are more likely to ‘try their hardest to make it to their desk’ and ‘feel guilty’ if they succumb to a bout of the sniffles and end up dumping their workload on colleagues.

Men on the other hand are more likely to be called up by their boss because of their poor track record.

Yesterday, Lawrence Christensen of leading mutual health and wellbeing organisation, Benenden Healthcare Society, said: ‘The age-old debate between the sexes continues as our research shows a difference between them when it comes to taking sick leave. Whilst men are less likely to shake off the man flu and go to work, women do end up taking more sick days across their careers.

‘They might succumb to illness more easily, but women come out on top when it comes to dedication to work. Many men will pick up the phone as soon as they feel a little under the weather, whilst women soldier on for longer.

‘However, in all cases, there seems to be a great pressure to battle on and make it into work. This is perhaps even more relevant considering the current weakness of the economy – are British workers being frowned upon if they take sick leave? Would employers rather their staff place their colleagues at risk of infection and illness?

‘Employers need to ensure that their sickness absence management procedures are robust. Good, holistic approaches to employee health & wellbeing can result in greater productivity and lower instances of sickness absence.’

The representative study of 1000 men and 1000 women quizzed them on their attitudes and behaviours towards feeling ill, having to take time off work and drew gender comparisons.

It found the average adult takes three and a half days off work a year because of illness – or 141 during their working life – with men taking 140 and women, 189.

Blokes fared much worse when it came to their dedication in making it into work though. Four in ten men admitted to calling in sick the moment they feel ill, a quarter have been called up by their boss and they’re more likely to take the easy route out and text or email their manager.

Eight in ten said they try their best to make it into work, compared to nine in ten women, four in ten feel guilty leaving their colleagues in the lurch and just half worry about workloads when they’re tucked up in bed.

Just three in ten female workers on the other hand ring in the second they start sniffling and will soldier on regardless.  Fewer than one in five have ever had a talking to by their boss about their sick leave and they will pick up the phone when they have to let others know they won’t be in.

Two thirds are left feeling guilty if they have to let their boss know they’re staying at home, while just a third of men said the same. Seventy per cent feel like they are unable to take any time off work, compared to six in ten men who admit to the same pressure. They have also sat at their desk on at least eight occasions in the last year when they knew they should be at home resting, compared to six for men.

The report also revealed men will ring in sick for more minor ‘illnesses’ such as hayfever, sore throat  and headache, while women stay in bed with symptoms such as vomiting, flu and high temperature.

Yesterday, Dr Tony Williams Consultant Occupational Physician at Benenden Hospital commented on the results: ‘Everyone who goes off sick does so for a reason, but the reason is not always related to disease or illness.

‘Women are usually the principle carer for children and if a child is sick they may take time off ‘sick’ to look after the child.  If managers do more to find out why employees were off sick they may be able to come up with alternative solutions and support mechanisms that can help reduce overall sickness absence.  Working from home can often be an answer.

‘The fitter people are the less sickness absence they have.  Obese people have four days more sickness per year, but many women of normal weight are still physically unfit and more likely to have sickness absence.  Businesses that focus on physical fitness and health of their staff through opportunities for healthy eating and exercise will reduce sickness absence substantially.’