Updated 26 April 2016

'Throwing sickies' is ruining SA's economy

The economy loses between R12- to R16-billion a year as a result of absent workers, many of whos aren't actually physically ill but 'pull a sickie' to have a day off.

Have you ever "thrown a sickie”?

In case you’re wondering what that means - because you’re such a hard worker - here is the Collins English Dictionary’s official definition:  “a day of sick leave from work, whether for genuine sickness or not”.

You may also know it as 'banking', though we mostly reserve that for kids who take a day off from school for no particular reason other than they just can't face it that day. 

Read: Sick leave: the facts

Constant absenteeism has a knock-on effect on general productivity, profit margins and staff morale.

"The smaller the business, the greater the effect",  says Christo Botes, Executive Director of Business Partners Limited, a specialist risk finance company for formal SMEs in South Africa.

Why do workers stay at home when they are not sick?

"It points to stress, either in the workplace or at home", according to Chantal du Chenne, a Gauteng strategist in organisational health-risk management.

"If the workplace itself is stressful, people can be tempted to take a day off to avoid the stressed environment."

Take a look: 10 things that make your job more stressful, from's Jobs Rated Most and Least Stressful Methodology 2016

what makes your job more stressful

And that's not all - Dr Judy Jaye, manager of the Stress Clinic says an unchallenging work environment, poor management, burnout, large workloads, office politics, and a lack of job satisfaction also cause job stress. 

Add to those personal problems that affect someone’s productivity, such as chronic illness, relationship problems or an addiction, and the scene is set for a less than satisfying or productive workplace.

Here are some facts about the far-reaching effects of “throwing a sickie” from OCSA

• On average in South Africa 15 – 30% of staff in a company could be absent on any given day.
• 2 out of 3 employees who fail to show up for work aren't physically ill.
• One day’s absence can cost a company 3 days’ worth of salary 

Read: 2015 Health24 Health of the Nation survey 

Health24's CyberShrink, Professor Michael Simpson on why people feign illness:

Being sick has obvious disadvantages and some advantages some people learn to manipulate profitably.  When it suits us, genuine but mild illness can be exaggerated if that’s to our advantage, and some people are content to invent an “illness” entirely,  when it’s useful for them. 

If you take a day or two off work, which explanation will work best ?  “I just got the box set of Game of Thrones and just couldn’t resist binge-watching” or “So sorry, boss, but I had terrible gastro: must have been something I ate “. 

If someone is considered to be sick,  society usually gives them a form of bonus : it’s an acceptable reason for missing work or other duties, being excused from heavy duties,  forgiven for under-performing, and so on. 

Usually we don’t scrutinize such claims very closely, so long as it doesn’t happen too often, and so long as the claimant tells a convincing story and tries really hard not to contradict it.  

When some people abuse these privileges, it may be because they’re ignoring the risks, preferring fun or even just convenience today,  to security later.  Of course they also affect the lives of the rest of us, as they make it harder for any of us to be believed, however genuinely ill we might be.

Habitual abusers of the sick role are often people with a selfish and irresponsible personality, who show this in many other ways, as well. 

And there are plenty folks like that around. 

When this behaviour is especially common in one particular company, or department, it may indicate poor organisation and management. 

Because it is also seen in people who wouldn’t otherwise seek to manipulate the system, but feel stressed and unfairly treated,  trapped in a situation that gives them no legitimate way to arrange even a brief escape from the situation.  

Expert advice: Ask CyberShrink a personal question

The 'throw a sickie poll':

According to an Adcorp index from 2013 3.96 million workers were absent due to sickness during the year, compared to 700 000 in 2000, which works out to an increase of 466%.

“Due to the unplanned and unpredictable nature of sick leave, the knock-on disruptive effect on supply chains has probably been greater than these figures suggest," said Loane Sharp, labour economist at Adcorp Holdings said on a post uploaded to the company's website. 

Read: Sick building syndrome

He went on to say : "It may have led, in part, to the growing phenomenon of temporary or 'contingency' workers, many of whom fill in for other employees who are absent from work.” 

Between 2009 and 2011, one-quarter of all workers claimed the maximum statutory allowance for sick leave, which is 36 days in a three-year cycle.

The top reason people are calling in sick :

Sick day Statistic South Africa

The other two reasons listed in the top three were: stomach bugs at 6.15% and the flu at 5.96%.

What can be done?

We all know that, come Autumn, the cold and flu bugs start making an appearance and inevitably most of us get sick. Employers can be proactive by initiating programmes that support workers' health in this time.

In the last decade or so, many companies have realised that work wellness programmes are an effective long-term human asset management strategy.

Wellness programmes often consist of health education, medical screenings, fitness programmes, and access to information and support when it comes to the management of chronic diseases.

And of course you can take care of yourself by getting the flu shot, practicing some good social distancing and keeping your immune system strong.

Because, after all, being well is good for the employee and for the boss!

Read more: 

7 ways to keep a healthy distance between you and the flu
Does your desk make you sick?
How to work through work stress

Sources: absenteeism management
Business Partners SA
The Voice Clinic SA
ADCORP Employment Index 2013

This article was brought to you by Cipla Medpro South Africa (Pty) Limited and its affiliates.
Find out how Cipla is advancing healthcare for all in South Africa.


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