£900m – the cost to the UK economy of SME workers who fake illness

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New research has revealed the staggering cost of small business employees bunking off: a whopping £900 million. The report, by breathHR,  found one in seven employees admitted to feigning illness and those that do appear to be serial offenders – pulling a sickie on average three times a year.

After researching over 1,500 British SME workers and business owners (5-249 employees) via Opinium, breatheHR found nearly half (42%) of employees who are pulling sickies do so due to needing a rest. However, just under half (46%) of workers are using up their full holiday allowance.

Key findings

  • Over half of business owners (51%) confessed to contacting an employee while they were on sick leave – this number jumps to 72% for younger business owners (18-34-year-olds)
  • Nearly half (42%) of employees who are pulling sickies do so due to needing a rest
  • Just under half (46%) of workers are using up their full holiday allowance
  • Three-quarters (71%) of business owners would expect employees to work if they had a common cold

Jonathan Richards, CEO, at breatheHR, said: “We’re facing a costly absence epidemic. At a time when the government is attempting to decipher the ‘productivity puzzle’, over two million people are calling in sick when they are in fact not. Imagine if that number was halved, what uptick in economic performance would that deliver to the UK economy and SMEs?

Absence has a big impact on small companies, but it’s an area that is often overlooked or poorly managed. With the right support tools in place, SMEs can reduce business admin and free up more time to create a culture where sickies simply don’t occur. This report shines a light on how absence impacts employees, employers and the wider business ecosystem.

 “The results are striking for how contradictory we are as people: employees aren’t taking their full holiday allowance but then phone in sick in order to have a ‘rest day’, and then check emails avidly. Unintentionally managers at small businesses are creating a culture where it is expected that employees are always available. So, what does this all mean for productivity?

“Business owners need to consider how their behaviour impacts others. Just because you’re happy to be contacted on holiday, doesn’t mean that should become the established norm. The impact is snowballing – again leading to absence in the form of preventable sickness – which costs business in terms of needing to invest both in cover and productivity.”

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