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What Do You Do When Someone on Your Team Takes a Sickie?

A recent survey by PwC (Price, Waterhouse, Cooper) in the UK discovered that 1 in 3 workers admits to taking time off under false pretences. As the most-used excuse is feigning sickness, this has become known as "taking a sickie" and costs UK business around £32 billion a year. This massive amount, interestingly, is the same as the cost of the 2011 Japanese tsunami and the net dollar worth of oil-rich Colonel Gaddafi of Libya.

The PwC report found that one of the reasons why so many of us take sickies is because we believe we can get away with it. In other words, the response by our managers and team leaders is so weak that it makes little difference whether we decide to go to work or stay at home. This, in turn, suggests that if managers had a clear strategy of dealing with sickness absence, not only would this huge national bill be drastically reduced, but so would the losses of every business affected.

Taking a Sickie: 3 Things You Must Do

Writer James Adonis suggests that, contrary to the widespread myth that there is nothing you can do when someone rings in pretending to be sick, there are, in fact, 3 things that you must do while not prejudicing those who are genuinely sick. They are:

1. Treat the initial reporting as an important issue

Research tells us that, when weighing up whether to ring in with a sickie or not, people usually consider whether it's worth the trouble or not. It stands to reason then that, if you have lax systems where people only need to leave a voicemail, text, or get someone else to ring in for them, they'll do it quite readily. Make them ring you personally, or indeed, ring them back yourself, and they'll certainly think twice about it. Why not be a bit inventive and put a report form on your website which absentees must fill in with detailed reasons for their absence and get them to sign the form on their return? It might just make them think.

2. Hold a return-to-work meeting as soon as they return

In a busy schedule, it's hard to squeeze in meetings with returning absentees, particularly if the two of you both know it's just a pretence. But that's no reason not to do it. By meeting face-to-face, you get the chance to let the person know that they were missed, that they are key members of the team, and that you are concerned about the reasons for their absence. Make this a priority. You'll need good counselling skills, good time management skills, and good delegation skills. But all of these are available from organisations like ourselves at ManageTrainLearn and should be part of every effective manager's skill set.

3. Put the issue of absenteeism on the agenda of your team meetings

By airing the issue of absenteeism in public at your regular team meetings, you let your team know that (a) it's too important to be swept under the carpet; (b) it's a team issue that affects everyone; and (c) when it's being done dishonestly, it's unfair, wrong, and costly.

James Adonis says that, when we make an issue of pretend sickness, we are doing what medieval people did when they placed skulls in their homes: we are reminding people of things they would rather not think about. By highlighting the problem, we are making those who are guilty think about their behaviour and think again. The public airing may also lead to a discussion about the underlying issues for people not wanting to come into work, such as boredom, low commitment and no job satisfaction. Attending to the issue thus allows you to deal not just with the immediate problems of taking a sickie but with more serious faultlines in the business. And that can only be a good thing.