It’s that time of year: You’re stocking up at the store for citrus and every kind of cold medicine under the sun. While you know it’s high season for the sniffles, you’re also likely aware that some employees who call in sick may actually have other reasons for being absent from work, whether they decide to take a mental health day or embark on a marathon shoe-buying spree. This year’s CareerBuilder survey on absenteeism, conducted online by Harris Interactive©, shows that in the past year, 30 percent of workers have called in sick when they’re not actually under the weather, on par with previous years. Sick days, whether legit or not, become quite commonplace around the winter holidays, with 31 percent of employers saying that more employees call in sick once the holiday season hits.
Chilly days and empty chairs
The survey of more than 2,400 employers and 3,900 workers found that, with heightened absenteeism around the holidays, December is the leading month of the year for employees to call in sick, with 20 percent of employers reporting their employees call in sick most that month. July is the next-most popular month to call in sick, followed by January and February.
Cold and flu background checks
Many employers take calling in sick without a legitimate excuse very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that 17 percent of employers said they have fired a worker because of it. Twenty-nine percent of employers have checked up on an employee to verify that the illness is legitimate, usually by requiring a doctor’s note or calling the employee later in the day. Some employers take it even further:
- 18 percent had another employee call the employee
- 14 percent drove by the employee’s home
Next to actually being sick, what are the most common reasons employees called in sick?
- They just didn’t feel like going to work (34 percent).
- They felt like they needed to relax (29 percent).
- To make it to a doctor’s appointment (22 percent).
- They wanted to catch up on sleep (16 percent).
- To run some errands (15 percent).
2012’s most unusual excuses for missing work:
- “My sobriety tool wouldn’t allow the car to start.”
- “I forgot I had been hired for the job.”
- “My dog was having a nervous breakdown.”
- “My dead grandmother was being exhumed for a police investigation.”
- “My toe was stuck in a faucet.”
- “A bird bit me.”
- “I was upset after watching ‘The Hunger Games.'”
- “I got sick from reading too much.”
- “I was suffering from a broken heart.”
- “My hair turned orange from dying my hair at home.”
Talking it out
But are some employees telling tall tales simply because they’re afraid employers can’t handle the truth (that they’re simply overworked, overtired, or need to catch up on “life”)? It often comes down to trust and communication; while employees should be honest, employers also need to be open and communicative about policies and preferences for work absence. In short, let your employees know what your expectations are upfront when it comes to workplace attendance.
And while the excuses above aren’t exactly run-of-the-mill, keep in mind that sometimes, taking a mental health day to catch up on sleep, spend time with family, or indulge in a day at the spa may be just what the doctor ordered for your employees — and the best thing for your business.