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Employers contacting sick employees

Managers may unintentionally be creating a culture where staff are expected to always be available

More than half of business owners have contacted an employee while they were on sick leave, according to research from breatheHR.

The sample of 1,002 UK workers and 504 business owners (with five to 249 employees) found that 51% of employers have contacted their staff when they are not working because of sickness. Younger business owners, aged between 18 and 34, were the most likely to have done this before, with 71% admitting to it.

Employees reported that they felt pressure to continue working even when off sick, with one in five (20%) of those aged between 18- and 34-years-old claiming they respond to work emails when off sick, out of guilt.

Jonathan Richards, CEO at breatheHR, warned of the negative impact this could be having on employees. “Business owners need to consider how their behaviour affects others,” he said. “Just because you’re happy to be contacted on holiday doesn’t mean that should become the established norm. The impact is snowballing – again leading to absence in the form of preventable sickness – which costs business in terms of needing to invest both in cover and productivity.”

The research also found that 16% of staff have pulled ‘sickies’ by taking a day off work when they are not actually ill, with those that did this taking an average of three days off per year. BreatheHR calculated that this equates to small businesses losing around 7.5 million days of work per year.

Nearly half (42%) of employees who are pulling sickies said that they do so because they need a rest. However, just under half (46%) of workers are using up their full holiday allowance.

“The results are striking for how contradictory we are as people: employees aren’t taking their full holiday allowance but phone in sick to have a ‘rest day’, and then check emails avidly,” said Richards. “Unintentionally managers at small businesses are creating a culture where it is expected that employees are always available.”