Why employees are taking more and more sick days every year

An epidemic of absenteeism

(Tory Zimmerman/Toronto Star)

(Tory Zimmerman/Toronto Star)

Governments lately have been sending workers a message: they’re sick of sick days. Last year, Ontario imposed a contract on public-school teachers that eliminated bankable sick days, while back in June, Treasury Board president Tony Clement vowed to fight federal employee absenteeism, which he said was costing taxpayers millions. But it’s not just a public-sector problem. New data show that all Canadian workers are taking more sick days than ever before, and the cost to the economy is immense.

A report from the Conference Board of Canada says absenteeism cost employers $16.6 billion in 2011 alone, while the C. D. Howe Institute shows the number of sick days per employee continues to increase. People aren’t taking off more time because they’ve grown lazier. They’re just older and more often female.

The fact that older workers take more days off is intuitive. Younger bodies can handle more stress. But the C. D. Howe report speculates that the rising number of sick days women are taking off—an average 2.9 more days a year than men—has less to do with illness than the fact that women are often saddled with taking care of both children and elderly parents. For many women, sick days end up being used for “take care of my kids while they’re sick” days. This ends up hitting the government purse since public-sector employees tend to be women.

Cissy Pau, principal consultant at Clear HR Consulting in Vancouver, says that in order to tackle absenteeism employers first need to find out why employees are missing work. The Conference Board noted that less than half actually keep track of who’s taking time off and why.

One way employers are trying to solve the issue is by offering workers personal days instead of sick days so that employees don’t have to feign illness to miss work. Pau says this helps to foster trust in the workplace.“If they know the employer has more empathy and more sympathy, they’re going to work harder for you.” Other employers are instituting flexible working arrangements, such as telecommuting or setting “core hours” when workers have to be present, while allowing them flexibility with the rest.

For some jobs, more flexible work just doesn’t do the trick. It’s hard for a forklift operator to telecommute. Instead, Sari Sairanen, health and safety director for national union Unifor, doesn’t think the problem will get better until governments themselves step in to provide better child and elder care so that workers have options outside of just missing work. “The solution’s not just in the workplace. It’s societal, and it’s in government.”

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6 comments on “Why employees are taking more and more sick days every year

  1. “Governments lately have been sending workers a message: they’re sick of sick days”
    I’m sick of government. Can I get rid of them the way they get rid of sick days, jsut by writing something down on a piece of paper?

  2. over 80% of all Defined Benefit Pension Plans ( the Gold Plated Plans ) are in the “PUBLIC SECTOR”! (services provided by taxpayer dollars!)
    Forget the Zoombie Apocolypse! The Public Sector Apocolypse is here! It’s happening in Greece! and Europe, and can be seen in the United States! (first the auto industry, and others, and now cities, ie; Detroit -that have to declare bankruptcy, due to high wages, benefits, and pensions!)
    I know of some public sector employees who retired, and after 5 years were receiving a pension (and GP benefits) that was more than the employees still working!
    You can’t download ALL – responsibility for Your Family onto Companies, Society, or the Government!
    You can’t have Your 2 SUV’s, 3,000 sq. ft. Home, Cottage, and expect No Monetary responsibility for Your Children & Parents!
    That is trying to make “them” – someone else’s problem!
    It’d be nice if You can have Your cake and eat it 2!
    When I was a kid, Pub. Sec. employees were low pay! Now the pendulum has swong the other way, and everyone’s “a indespensible professional”, right down to the “Waste Disposal Tecnicians”! who operate the semi-automated Waste disposal vehicles!
    Sh*t! I guess I made the wrong choice! (Private Sector, instead of Public Sector!)
    I could be retired, like Lazy Larry, leisurely lounging in the Lap of Luxury!

    If You have a job, a house, a vehicle, You are richer than 90% of all people in the world!
    Bon Appetite!

    • P.S. I forgot to mention an example in Canada! UUmmmm??? – How about ONTARIO! the HAVE province is now a HAVE NOT!
      and NEWFOUNDLAND is giving us Handouts! (see comparisons of populations!)

  3. First things first….let’s get the politicians to work a typical workweek for 48 weeks a year! You know what they say about those who live in glass houses Mr. Clement!

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