• Sickies: problem or symptom?

    Sickies: problem or symptom?

    Posted 22/01/2013 By in EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT, GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR PEOPLE With | 4 Comments

    It’s the Australia Day long weekend coming up and most people I speak to are really looking forward to the extra day off even though it’s still only January.

    I was reading an online article about businesses needing to be prepared for a deluge of ‘sickies’ [Australian slang for an illegitimate sick leave day] on the Friday before the long weekend  nb: don’t forget the Tuesday.  The projected cost of the expected 173,000 sickies to be taken this Friday is $36 million!!!    The position adopted by the NSW Business Chamber is that it is a blight on business and accordingly is urging employers to “take a tough stance on sickies…”.

    It got me to thinking… is the ‘sickie’ a problem or is it a symptom?  

    I’ve always said to the Managers I work with “the tighter you squeeze, the more you lose”.  I blogged about it sometime back.  Essentially, what I’m saying is that the more controls you implement and the more you ‘force’ people to meet your needs while not considering theirs, the more likely it is that they will find other ways to meet their needs… many of which may NOT be beneficial to the employer.  eg/ an unofficial sickie, reduced productivity, bad mouthing the company, delivering poor customer service etc.  So is the sickie the problem?  I think no.  I think it’s like a valve that is used to relieve pressure.  The unofficial sickie is, in my opinion, a symptom of a deeper problem.  I believe it’s a problem of engagement.  Highly engaged employees LOVE their work.  Get that?  It’s something they enjoy doing and will not willingly undermine or sabotage it.

    So, while they may be thinking “It’d be great to have an extra long weekend this weekend, make a real break of it”, they’re far less likely to just take a sickie and leave you and everyone else in the lurch.  What they’re more likely to do is think to themselves “Hmmm, how can I do that without letting everyone down?”.  The result may be that they approach their employer with a proposal to work extra hours every day this week to make up for the planned for day off and in doing so not compromise deliverables.   There are so many ways to slice and dice this scenario and the above is but one example.  Other factors affecting engagement could many and varied, for instance  it may be workload.  It might simply be that they’re being asked to do too much with too little.  So when the opportunity for 4 days off (3 of which are legitimate) comes along they jump at the chance.  Perhaps they even feel entitled to the day off?  After all, they believe it’s their sick leave and who’s to say exhaustion or even apathy is not a genuine illness?   Do you see what I’m driving at?   It’s important to understand that I’m not condoning the sickie, it’s a maladaptive response in that it only  forces employers and managers to tighten controls and in doing so further perpetuates the cycle.  I am however approaching the sickie as a response to something else and seek to address that (the root cause if you will).

    This is how I see the world – hopefully it contextualises where I’m coming from.  Employers need employees and employees need employers.  Period.  That this relationship should be mutually beneficial and reciprocal is a no-brainer to me.  The frustrating thing fot me is that despite the astronomical costs of disengagement (36 million in one day in NSW alone?), so few businesses are prepared to spend even a minute fraction of that on reducing those costs through a focus on improved engagement.

    What do you think?  Have I got this wrong?


    ps.  I’m looking for a small to medium enterprise that is looking to be a game changer in the space of employee engagement.  If you think similarly to me and want to see these ideas put into action hit me up and let’s talk.  I’m looking for the right case-study organisation to partner with.

    Please help me to spread the word by sharing.

      Sean is an experienced coach, speaker and facilitator who is passionate about improving the relationship between people, their work and the organisations they work for. If you want to get the most out of your managers, supervisors and their teams and think that work can or should be a rewarding and enjoyable component of a productive and meaningful life it might be worth a chat.

    4 comments on “Sickies: problem or symptom?

    1. J. Lam on said:

      Sean, you’re 110% right! When you make your workers hate coming to work, everyone suffers. The boss suffers, the workers suffer, and most importantly the work and customers suffer. Instead of focusing on a strict, “Everyone must be here from 9-5 each day,” it’s worth considering proposal’s from workers who want to come in from 8 to 4 each day or only come in on 4 days, but work an extra hour or two each of those days, or even take some of their work home with them.

      • Sean on said:

        Great ideas and I know several companies that are already benefiting from this sort of thinking. To really push the envelope consider this… Some organisations, mostly software dev and tech companies, operate 24/7 and allow their people to come and go as they please. Imagine being able to work at a time when your energy is at its greatest AND being able to manage the rest of your life priorities.

        • Elena Gunderson on said:

          That’s the right way to do things Sean. I’m lucky to work doing PR for a game developer who lets us come and go as we please. The work gets done on time – usually even ahead of schedule. Most of the things I do don’t require me to be sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day – I’d just be twiddling my thumbs if I had to do that.

          • Sean on said:

            Hi Elena,

            Thanks for posting. I’ve found that employees are reluctant to jeopordise good employment conditions by letting work projects fail. If they do, then they’re the wrong employee. :-)

    Leave a Reply to Elena Gunderson Cancel reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


    HTML tags are not allowed.

    Why ask?

    Copyright Blaze Unlimited Pty Ltd, 2007. All rights reserved.