National Sickie Day, which is on the first Monday of February each year, has become known as the day when employees are most likely to call in sick.

National Sickie Day first came about in 2011, and ever since, this day has consistently seen a high rate of absenteeism among workers.

While some may attribute absences to common ailments or post-holiday fatigue, a deeper analysis suggests that factors such as gloomy weather, seasonal illnesses, and mental health challenges, including depression and anxiety, play a significant role​​.

Research insights

A report by the British law firm ELAS in 2011 marked the inception of National Sickie Day, identifying the first Monday in February as a peak for employee absenteeism. The reasons vary from physical illnesses to mental health issues, which are often masked under more ‘acceptable’ ailments due to the stigma surrounding mental health. In 2020, approximately 600,000 workers in the UK took sick leave on this day, indicating a significant economic impact​​.

Moreover, a study by O.C. Tanner suggests that a poor workplace culture is a key driver of absenteeism, contributing to over a quarter of all absences. The pandemic has exacerbated this issue, breaking down social connections and increasing mental health challenges among employees. Almost half of UK workers have, at times, felt like leaving their job, with many feeling undervalued and unsupported by their organisation​​.

Employer action steps

If employers are concerned about employees calling in sick in their workplace, they should first consider their workplace culture and policies. Creating a supportive and inclusive environment can alleviate stress and improve employee well-being. Employers should:

  1. Foster strong social connections at work.
  2. Encourage open discussions about mental health and well-being.
  3. Implement fair and reasonable time-off policies.
  4. Recognise and appreciate employees regularly.

Advice from Nebel Crowhurst

Nebel Crowhurst, Chief People Officer at Reward Gateway, emphasises the importance of understanding the broader narrative behind employee absences. National Sickie Day serves as a reminder that employee well-being is not just a corporate responsibility but a shared commitment.

National Sickie Day highlights how absences can tell stories that go beyond the typical cold or flu. It’s a day when employees decide, for various reasons, that they’d rather not go to work. This day nudges us to reflect on something fundamental – the well-being of the heartbeat of any organisation: its employees. People who say they are lonely in their jobs are twice as likely than those who are not lonely to have taken 10 or more unplanned days of sick leave, according to data from Reward Gateway.

Nebel Crowhurst, Chief People Officer at Reward Gateway

To help combat this issue, Nebel suggests that employers focus on consistent support rather than one-off gestures, offering benefits that address employees’ real-life challenges, such as financial worries or family planning support. By creating a non-judgmental and supportive work environment, employers can reduce the need for employees to take sick days to cope with work life.

Addressing frequent sick leave

When addressing frequent sick leave at work, it’s crucial for employers to approach the situation with understanding and sensitivity. Employers should engage in open, non-confrontational communication to understand the employee’s circumstances. Employers will likely have little knowledge about what is going on in their employee’s personal lives and must bear this in mind when addressing any sick leave concerns.

At the same time, reviewing and clearly communicating attendance policies is essential. Providing support, such as access to counselling or flexible work arrangements, can be beneficial too.

Keeping accurate records of absences, implementing performance management plans if needed, and always considering legal and ethical aspects are important steps.

Finally, promoting a healthy work environment that values employee well-being, through wellness programs and regular morale check-ins, can improve attendance and overall productivity.

Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website | + posts

Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.