By guest writer Rebecca Seward, content editor
The first Monday in February has become known as “National Sickie Day” in the UK – and even bosses are labelling it as such, according to The Sun1.
“In 2009, 30,000 more staff than normal took the first Monday of February off,” the newspaper reported. “Psychologists say it is down to depression over winter weather, being broke after Christmas, and [dissatisfaction with] their jobs.”
Hundreds of thousands of employees are expected to call in sick on this day, leaving companies to wonder which absentees are actually ill. It’s a phenomenon that has been going on for years, but recently the number of people absent on this day has increased exponentially, raising the question: why?
“The survey from Friends Provident revealed that almost 30,000 staff missed work this time last year, and the figure was expected to soar this year,” reported The Hindustan Times2 in 2009. “And it is believed that the trend is because of a combination of post-Christmas blues, the miserable weather and growing economic gloom.”
The article points out that mental health problems such as depression often cause symptoms such as fatigue and stomach problems, as well as a difficulty leaving the home. In addition to seasonal gloom, recent financial uncertainties may also compound these ailments.
For these reasons, “Sickie Monday” is has also come to be known as “Blue Monday.”
Additionally, “owing to recession concerns, one in five people was found to sleep less, while more than a third were worrying more,” the report continued, noting such anxiety can manifest physically, such as in the form of headaches, or lead to full-blown clinical depression.
But a 2015 article from the Daily Telegraph3, which noted an exponential rise in absenteeism as “350,000 British workers were expected to phone in sick” according to data compiled by Hyper Recruitment Solutions, a national recruiting firm, the high rate of “sickies” was not the result of illness or depression, but rather people looking to change their circumstances.
“The company, which compiled the data, suggests workers are acting on New Year's resolutions to improve their career prospects,” according to The Telegraph.
“’Candidates think about their future over Christmas, spend January considering their next move and then start interviewing in February,’" the firm’s manager told the paper.
While these insights help us understand why people call in sick on the first Monday in February, they don’t explain why so many more people are doing so each year. One possibility is that increasingly widespread coverage in UK’s tabloids may have an influence.
By 2017, the estimated number of absentees rose 25,000 over two years prior – a fact that was not overlooked by the media.
“Today is the worst of the year for absenteeism, with an average 375,000 British workers taking the day off, costing firms £45 million,” according to Express4, which shared some of the more creative excuses given by employees calling in sick.
Citing a survey conducted by a conference call provider, Express reported the oddest excuse was” “I slept funny on my arms and now they are asleep,” closely followed by “I can’t come in like this, my mates shaved my eyebrows off.”
One man told his bosses: “I’m having period pains.”
In anticipation of an even higher number of absentees, in 2017 the first-aid charity St. John Ambulance published tips for “sickies” to treat common ailments at home. The list was shared in the Hartlepool Mail5 and included advice for handling a hangover for those who overindulged after abstaining during a “dry January” (“make sure you drink lots of water and/or an oral rehydration solution”).
Not everyone believes that “Sickie Monday” is really such a phenomenon as the press makes it out to be, or that the effect on the economy is at all significant. In an article from The People6, such claims were discredited:
Dubbing it Blue Monday, researchers at the University of Exeter claimed a post-New Year "workplace malaise" would cost the nation £93 billion in lost productivity. What nonsense. Most Brits who throw sickies or skive off early will catch up on the work they've missed by putting in an extra shift next time they clock on. You might as well call tomorrow Happy Monday, when productivity will go through the roof.
Regardless of why “Sickie Monday” exploded from 30,000 absences to 375,000 in less than a decade, or whether it has an effect has on the economy, there is one thing everyone can agree on: The trend is unfair on those who are genuinely ill. Flu and cold viruses are common during the cold, gray February days and those genuinely suffering may be tempted to drag themselves into work to avoid being accused of playing hooky.
The Daily Mail quoted a TUC spokesperson who said “With February a top month for colds and flu, the worry is that people with genuine illness will have to struggle in to avoid suspicion”7.
Unfortunately, if people with the flu are coming into the office, genuine illness will certainly spread. Maybe in a few years, statistics will show that the second Monday in February is the day when most people are off sick, as everyone will be enjoying the bugs shared by their colleagues on “Sickie Monday.”
For further research
Chip Taylor Communications (Producer). (2011). Sun Deprivation [Video file].
Roulliat, F. (Director). (2008). What About the Virus Care? [Video file]. 10 Francs.
Wisneski, B. (Producer). (2003). Stress Busters That Work [Video file]. Palomar Community College.
50MINUTES.COM (2017). Preventing Absenteeism At Work: Understand and Beat This Widespread Phenomenon.
Oudtshoorn, N. V. (1997). The Hangover Handbook: 101 Cures for Humanity's Oldest Malady.
Kottraba, C. (2003). The Relationship Between Organizational Justice, Employee Absenteeism, and Role Stress (Order No. 3079940).
Wallace, A. S. (2017). The Relationship Between Leadership Styles, Employee Psychological Capital, and Employee Absenteeism (Order No. 10605175).
Waye, M. D. (2017). Strategies for Reducing the Effects of Employee Absenteeism on Organizational Profitability (Order No. 10256236).