We’ve all been tempted by the post-public holiday sickie… and most likely shrugged off the potential risks. Well if you’re thinking of calling in sick after the break – think again. The company’s bottom line isn’t all you’re hurting; it could potentially damage your standing at work too.
Each year, Australia Day brings with it anticipation that as many as 200,000 workers will take the after (Friday) off and score a four-day weekend.
This number, according to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief James Pearson, is based on previous year’s figures and could cost Australian businesses an astounding $62 million over a single day.
The “sickie”: a patriotic Australian tradition?
It may be as Aussie as a barbeque but absenteeism following public holidays is not only costly to businesses; it promotes damaging workplace practices that can be difficult to break.
“Misusing sick leave erodes trust in the workplace,” says Pearson. It “puts extra strain on colleagues doing the right thing and leaves people short of sick leave when they genuinely need it.”
On a recent round table debate hosted on Channel Ten, Alison Stephenson at news.com.au agreed – suggesting in the long run undeserved sick leave can harm your career. “Not only is it dishonest but there’s an impact on the rest of your team too.” She says it can also reflect badly on your reputation, particularly in today’s job market where people tend to change jobs and titles regularly.
Studies show that absenteeism is a particular problem for Australian employees. Absence management company Direct Health Solutions reports that the national average absence levels are 30 per cent higher than UK sick leave rates. One striking example? In 2012, Toyota Australia reported that absenteeism reached up to 30 per cent in some areas the day after Australia Day.
Under new WorkChoices laws employees are entitled to 10 days personal leave a year, including sick leave. However the current Fair Work guidelines give employers every right to ask employees to give evidence for their absence, typically a medical certificate, even if they have only been absent one day.
What can HR do to discourage employees from taking a “sickie” this Friday?
Despite the fact that no-one taking an impulsive day off this Friday will be fooling their employer, smart companies anticipate and plan for an inevitable uptick in absenteeism following a public holiday.
“Be open and flexible with your employees about the situation,” suggests Martin Nally at HRAnywhere. He says that openly recognising that employees will want the day off and having a frank conversation about it is the most effective way to minimise absenteeism ahead of time. If leave on the Friday is out of the question, “offer them a different day off instead, say the Tuesday or the Wednesday” and build that level of trust.
How HR can minimise public holiday-related absenteeism:
- Ensure there’s a well-publicised leave policy that communicates that attendance is taken seriously. It should include clear guidelines on who to contact and what methods are considered acceptable and unacceptable (eg. a phone call over a text message or email).
- Requiring a reasonable notice period for leave ensures that the entire office doesn’t take a day off after a public holiday. Offer leave on a first in, best dressed policy and, as mentioned above, seek alternative solutions for those who miss out.
- Ensure that your teams share knowledge. If one person is away unexpectedly, hell should not break loose. Teams should be equipped to pick up the slack in a pinch.
- Support a healthy working culture where not only do employees take their 10 personal days seriously, they want to support colleagues who would be obliged to take up the workload their absence.