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National Sickie Day (which was on the 5th February) has been statistically found to be the day when most workers are likely to call in sick, according to research first conducted by British law firm ELAS in 2011.

This National Sickie Day, a recent report by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) found thatsick days at work have hit the highest level in 10 years – so is this National Sickie Day set to be the biggest?

With stress continuing to be one of the main causes of calling in sick, experts at Savoy Stewart provided their insight into just how to avoid staff stress, burnout and sickness.

Manage workplace stress

With stress and job burnout a leading cause of staff sickness, identifying and addressing those stressors is crucial. When staff are put in high-stress situations, whether this be unreasonable deadlines, unclear expectations or unmanageable workloads, they are at risk of moving into ‘fight or flight’ mode

The ‘fight or flight’ response typically acts as a survival mechanism as we react to life-threatening situations. But unfortunately, the body can also overreact to stressors that are non life-threatening, such as work pressure. If an employee stays in fight or flight mode for too long, it can lead to burnout or chronic stress.

Georgina Sturmer, MBACP Counsellor (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) provided her insight: 


“Employers can manage workplace stress for their staff by building a culture that acknowledges the impact that stress has on employees, and that offers an open dialogue to support employees in how they manage their stress. 

“Employers can lead by example, by sharing how they are being proactive about managing their own stress levels.  Asking for help, delegating work, using their annual leave, taking regular breaks during the work day.  These actions all filter down to our employees – if they see senior colleagues behaving in this way, then they will know that it is acceptable to do so.”

Embrace employee boundaries

Helping your employees navigate boundaries with minimal friction is necessary for a healthy work-life balance and long-term career growth. A recent study by workinmind.org found that 63% of workers did unpaid overtime at least once per week, with one in three also neglecting their mental health because they are too busy at work.

Georgina Sturmer adds: “The pressure to be contactable and responsive 24/7 is a major contributor to workplace stress.  It makes it hard for us to wind down, which makes us less productive and more prone to stress and burnout.  

“Have defined times when you expect staff to be ‘on’ and make sure that there isn’t pressure for them to be available outside of these hours. As an employer you can lead by example. Consider having separate devices for work and for leisure, or at least try to resist the urge to send work messages outside of hours.”  

Increase staff flexibility

A study performed by the National Library of Medicine addressed the problem of absenteeism, and named flexible working as a positive by enabling  employees to allocate their own resources between work and non-work according to their preferences. The study found that allowing staff to work from home increased job satisfaction by 65%, and being allowed to change one’s schedule increased the likelihood of job satisfaction by 62%.

Preventative measures such as flexible working can reduce staff sickness by reducing job stress, offering an overall improved work-life balance and job satisfaction. Giving your staff more opportunity to work through non-work responsibilities, addressing their personal and family needs – whether that be in terms of location, hours and days worked – can give your employees a sense of control and freedom within their role.

Wellbeing benefits

According to the CIPD, a third of organisations (33%) have increased their budget for wellbeing benefits as a consequence of the pandemic, but is this enough?

According to Perci Health, Around 25% of UK employees have reported having a physical health condition, yet less than half of those (46%) say they feel their employer supports their physical and emotional health.

Implementing wellbeing benefits for your employees works as not only a preventative method to support employees inside and outside of work, but benefits such as health insurance and gym memberships can help employees back on their feet after a period of sickness.

Utilise wellbeing benefits that your employees actually value, and don’t be afraid to ask for their opinions on which benefits they’d want the most. You want to be able to cover physical, mental, financial and overall wellbeing for employees as much as possible to reduce stress and burnout.

Georgina Sturmer adds: “Ask your staff what they need.  They might seek traditional benefits, like access to leisure facilities or additional annual leave.  But they might also benefit from more flexible working patterns, or opportunities to have fun with their colleagues.  Or they might be looking for additional mental health support, through workplace counselling options or a programme of Mental Health First Aid.”  

Create a comfortable office environment


Employers can reduce stress in the office by looking into their office design. Options such as break out spaces gives staff the opportunity to take meetings or breaks in different environments. Giving them the autonomy to work in whatever space that suits them, may it be quiet spaces when they need to concentrate or more social settings when they’re feeling creative.

Often in open plan offices, it’s hard to break away from the constant hustle and bustle. Providing quiet zones such as solo pods, quiet booths or even just areas where no phones or music are allowed, gives staff that escape and time to think.

Even additions such as adding a splash of colour can lighten your employees mood, as well as bringing in some greenery and opting for large windows to let in the natural light. You can also provide simple extras such as stress balls, oil diffusers, and especially desktop organisers for a much more healthy atmosphere, alleviating any extra stressors from disorganisation.

Train managers to deal with absenteeism

Line managers often pay a pivotal role in staff absenteeism, and management style remains amongst the most common causes of workplace stress. According to the CIPD, the majority of organisations look to line managers to take primary responsibility for managing both short-term (70%) and long-term (61%) absence.

Less than two-fifths (38%) of HR respondents agree that managers are confident to have sensitive discussions and signpost people to expert sources of help when needed; and even fewer (29%) believe they are confident and competent to spot the early warning signs of mental ill health. 

There are many absence management training courses you can share with employees, which will give them the tools they need from helping them conduct proper return to work interviews to equipping them with the confidence to support their staff back into the workplace.

Georgina Sturmer provided her insight on how businesses should respond to a staff member calling in sick for stress/burnout reasons:

With compassion.  It can take an enormous amount of courage to tell our workplace that we can’t come into work due to stress or burnout.  Be kind and compassionate towards them, and make sure that they are clear on your company’s policy for these types of absences.  Respect their confidentiality in the same way as you would with any other type of absence.  Make sure that they know where to go if they need support with their mental health, they can see their GP and access help through Samaritans and SHOUT.  And take it as an opportunity to learn.  Is there anything that you can improve in the workplace, to avoid this situation happening again in the future.” 

You may also enjoy reading about how you could read for 6 minutes a day to reduce stress.

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