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Sick and tired?

Some workplaces maintain low sickness rates, while others soar. Bethann Siviter wonders what lies behind the figures.
Sickness illustration

Some workplaces maintain low sickness rates, while others soar. Bethann Siviter wonders what lies behind the figures

I stumbled across eight years of sickness absence tables for the NHS. Some places have a less than 1% sickness absence, yet others are more than 14%. Low absence rates tended to stay low over the years, while high figures decreased only slowly over time.

Why? Are some staff groups simply healthier? Is it more to do with workload than illness? Culture and management? Postcode sickness lottery?

Weve all been shorthanded because someone is off sick: although empathetic we can feel hard done by. What if your colleague was less ill than just tired of coming to work? Or if those who took excessive absences were guilt-tripped by colleagues?

Balance

How unwell

...

Some workplaces maintain low sickness rates, while others soar. Bethann Siviter wonders what lies behind the figures

Feeling sick and tired
Low absence rates in workforces are prompting questions. Picture: Getty

I stumbled across eight years of sickness absence tables for the NHS. Some places have a less than 1% sickness absence, yet others are more than 14%. Low absence rates tended to stay low over the years, while high figures decreased only slowly over time.

Why? Are some staff groups simply healthier? Is it more to do with workload than illness? Culture and management? Postcode sickness lottery?

We’ve all been shorthanded because someone is off sick: although empathetic we can feel hard done by. What if your colleague was less ill than just tired of coming to work? Or if those who took ‘excessive’ absences were guilt-tripped by colleagues?

Balance

How unwell do you need to be to not be well enough to work? Some iron-clad staff come to work with an arm hanging off, yet others use a papercut as an excuse for two weeks of bedrest; with the majority in-between. Some happily share their germs (Achoo) with everyone they meet (cough), while others stay home because they feel a cold might be coming on. Where is the balance?

I guess what I am really wondering is how low rates are achieved: do people feel afraid to call in or are they so invested and supported that they don’t need to?

How do we ensure everyone can be healthy, while getting the work done? Managing sickness absence is tough. It takes a fair mix of sensitivity, directness and House-like diagnostic skills. We may even find the ‘sickness’ is domestic violence, or bullying, mental health issues, stress, disability. ‘Sick’ may seem straight forward, but it really isn’t.

I suspect that low-rate places hold staff accountable, but also have open, honest communication about wellness in professional and personal life. How can all workplaces be like that? Maybe I’ll have a think about it tomorrow as I am snuggled under the duvet. I feel a headache coming on. Honest.


About the author

Bethann Siviter

Bethann Siviter is an independent nursing consultant in the West Midlands

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