How to deal with sickies in your SME

Earlier this month was National Sickie Day, an awareness day which started from the claim that more people call into work sick on the first Monday in February than at any other time of the year. Whether or not that’s true, sickies are a real phenomenon, and they can be especially tricky to deal with if you run a small business.

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, 2017 saw the lowest average number of sick days taken on record, at only 4.1 days for the year.1However, the cost to employers increased, from £455 per employee for days lost to sickness in 2016, to £570 in 2017.2While paid sick leave is obviously an important right for workers, sickies (i.e. sick days taken when the person isn’t really sick) can have a negative impact, especially on small business owners.

So what should you do if one of your employees pulls a sickie? Here are some tips that will help you to handle it in the right way.

1. Try to understand why

There are all sorts of reasons why somebody might pull a sickie –and they aren’t all because the person is lazy or recovering from a big night out. Research by CV Library3has revealed that two of the main reasons people pull sickies are tiredness and lack of motivation – two things you, as a manager, may be able to help with. Try to set up regular face-to-face meetings with your staff and encourage them to give you feedback about their work. Then, if you learn that they’re feeling overworked or uninspired, you can take steps to relieve their workload or give them something new and exciting to work towards.  

2. Promote mental health

Although the stigma around mental health is lessening, plenty of people are still too embarrassed to admit when they’re struggling, and so they may pretend to be physically sick in order to take a day off for emotional reasons. You can overcome this by encouraging a culture of honesty and openness in your workplace, and reassuring your staff that they won’t be punished for taking the occasional day for self-care. In fact, this is where being a small business could benefit you –evidence shows4that small companies tend to see less sickness absence in general, and this could be down to stronger company culture and employees being more honest about their needs. In this way, encouraging a healthy work–life balance can actually make your employees happier, better workers, and make them less likely to take time off for sickness. 

3. Recognise when it’s a problem

Of course, sometimes you will encounter a person who is pulling an unreasonable number of sickies and costing your business both time and money. In this case, you will need to have some strategies in place. The simplest method is to create a clear process for monitoring sick leave –just making your employees aware that their sick days are being counted can be enough to cut down the number of days off they take. If you’re dealing with a repeat offender, you may have to do more detailed tracking (e.g. do they always take Mondays off to make their weekends longer?), or have a sit-down meeting with them to discuss their behaviour and decide on the next steps.

In conclusion

Quite often, the best way to deal with staff pulling sickies is not to do anything –as long as it’s only now and again, and they’re otherwise hard-working and engaged. However, if it does become a consistent problem, don’t be afraid to dig deeper into the reasons and to be firm if you need to be. The most important part of dealing with sickness absence is to try to understand each member of your team as individuals, and to work with them towards a common goal.

Do you need to relieve some of the pressure on your permanent staff? A virtual assistant is a professional, remote worker who can take on your extra work as and when you need them to. Get Ahead VA has a whole team of VAs who are ready to help. Want to know more? Please give us a call on 01483 332220 or email us at We pride ourselves on being the staff you don’t see, but the difference you do.






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