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Study reveals impact of sickness absence in the workplace

25th April 2013

Six in ten bosses don’t believe their employees’ excuses when they call in sick – with the most bizarre including “my dog has had a big fright and I don’t want to leave him” and “a can of baked beans landed on my big toe.

Suspicious managers are convinced their workers are lying to them in over half of the ‘not coming in’ calls they receive, it was found today in a study on sickness absence management commissioned by the mutual healthcare provider Benenden Health.

One in four rigorously question those who don’t sound ill enough or who give weak excuses, while factors like the weather being nice or the person seeming fine the day before also arouse suspicion.

It also emerged a third of bosses always scour the social media profiles of those they suspect to be taking a sickie, looking for proof they are ill – or ways to catch them out.

The study of 1,000 bosses and 1,000 employees found certain excuses stand up better than others –vomiting bugs, viruses and abdominal pains are more likely to be believed.

Although, trying to take a day off sick for neck or back pain, because of a pulled muscle or fatigue will be looked on a lot less favourably.

Some of the more bizarre excuses bosses heard from employees calling in sick included:

  • Days off to tend to a distressed dog
  • Dropping a can of beans on their big toe
  • Mourning the death of their hamster
  • The dog ate their shoes

Yesterday, Gill Landon, HR & Development Director at Benenden Health said: “In a tough economy, managing sickness absence becomes vital for businesses, but employers are clearly suspicious about days taken off for illness – perhaps not surprising given the varied excuses presented for absence. This is not helped by the fact that for more than a fifth of the sick days taken, workers admitted they could have actually made it into work.

“High levels of sickness absence can have a huge negative impact on businesses - both from a financial perspective and on the effect it has on staff who bear the extra workload. This is naturally causing employers to be more alert to spotting staff who are not genuinely ill, using methods such as checking their social media profiles to catch them out if they are lying or rigorously questioning the reasons they give for their absence.

“However, employers should also show caution - we can see from the findings that being stressed or overworked can result in increased numbers of sick days being taken. Employers need to play their part by ensuring that the wellbeing of staff is dealt with through an effective health and wellbeing policy in the workplace.”

The Benenden Health research also revealed six in ten bosses trust certain employees a lot more than others when it comes to people calling in sick. Two thirds of bosses still demand their employees ring them when ill and are adamant that a text or email is not tolerated.

But bosses are more suspicious when the weather is good – aware of the temptation to run to the park or beach, while one in two bosses start to ask questions if the absentee seemed fine the day before.

The burden of sickness absence was truly revealed in the results - with almost one in three businesses lacking the resource to manage staff illness. A quarter of managers say there is a real problem with coping with staff absence in their workplace.

The biggest effects of sickness were the demotivation caused to those covering absent team members, while many chiefs admitted that the lack of an internal sickness policy regularly takes its toll.

Perhaps that’s why 55 per cent of employees dread making a sick call to their boss.

Yet workers admitted they could have made into work and done their job well in over a fifth of the sick days they’ve taken so far.

The research shows that the average person has completely skived off work on four occasions in their life to date - faking sick when they weren’t ill at all.

But three in ten workers have been forced to take a day off sick because they were suffering from stress and an exhausted quarter have had to stay at home as a result of fatigue from being overworked.

A third say their company is in no shape to cope with illness and has too small a staff to cover people, while a quarter have experienced an illness due to trying to work too hard.

Gill Landon added: “Clearly sickness absence in the workplace, whether through genuine illness or otherwise, does have a significant impact on businesses and so it is important for employers to have a robust procedure for managing absence.

“If an organisation has an effective approach to employee health and wellbeing, this can result in healthier workers who are more productive and who will have lower levels of sickness absence. By adopting a caring approach to their employees’ health and having a proper scheme in place, employers can proactively assist in reducing sickness absence in their workplace.”


  1. A can of baked beans landed on my big toe
  2. I was swimming too fast and smacked my head on the poolside
  3. I’ve been bitten by an insect
  4. My car handbrake broke and it rolled down the hill into a lamppost
  5. My dog has had a big fright and I don’t want to leave him
  6. My hamster has died
  7. I’ve injured myself during sex
  8. I slipped on a coin
  9. I’ve had a sleepless night
  10. My mum has died (this was the second time the person used this excuse)
  11. I am hallucinating
  12. I am stuck in my house because the door’s broken
  13. My new girlfriend bit me in a delicate place
  14. I burned my hand on the toaster
  15. The dog ate my shoes
  16. My fish is sick
  17. I swallowed white spirit
  18. My toe is trapped in the bath tap
  19. I’m in A&E as I got a clothes peg stuck on my tongue
  20. I drank too much and fell asleep on someone’s floor – I don’t know where I am
  21. My trousers split on the way to work
  22. I’m using a new contact lens solution and my eyes are watering
  23. I have a blocked nose
  24. I’ve had a hair dye disaster
  25. I’ve got a sore finger

The nationally representative survey of 1,000 employers and 1,000 employees was carried out by market researchers on 12th April 2013.