What to do if your staff is overdoing it on the sick days

By June 29, 2017Management & HR
Management & HR Documenting sick days and sick leaves

Suddenly, it becomes obvious: there are far too many empty chairs at the office. And it’s not a vacation scheduling issue either – these are unexpected absences, and they’re happening a lot.

If it’s an individual employee that’s away from the office a little too often, a conversation – and potentially a disciplinary procedure – might be required. But if it’s more of a company-wide occurrence, it could be a whole other issue altogether.

Here’s what to do if your staff is taking too many sick days.

Review your policies

Yes, this isn’t the first time we’ve made this suggestion. But going over the policies in place is a crucial first step in identifying any issue surrounding sick days or time off. What rules, if any, have you communicated to your team in the past? What precedents have been set?

Don’t just look at your sick leave policies, either. Look over your all your policies related to time off and schedules: vacation, lieu time, flexible arrangements, and so on. Look for contradicting rules or vague guidelines that might be confusing the team.

…and your legal duties

It’s also important to look at your legal requirements as an employer. Canada’s laws vary depending on the province – in Ontario, for example, current labour reforms might mean that employees are entitled to 10 sick days (two paid) without the need for a doctor’s note.

But generally, according to the Canada Labour Code, employers are required to allow employees to go on sick leave – but they don’t have to pay for it. Employees with a company for three consecutive months or more are entitled to up to 17 weeks of illness-related absence without the risk of dismissal, suspension, demotion, or discipline, as long as they can provide a doctor’s note with 15 days of returning to work.

As long as the employee continues to pay any benefit or insurance payments they usually pay, the employer must continue to offer them benefit. But the code does not stipulate that the sick leave must be paid.

Take a look at your management style

According to a 2014 study of over 7,300 middle-aged employees in Norway, workers who feel overworked, stressed, or micro-managed by their bosses are more likely to take an extended sick leave. “It seems to be the combination of being in a high-stress environment and having no control leads to long-term absences,” says lead author Samuel Harvey.

The answer, according to Harvey? Ease up on the micromanaging, and give your team more control. “Anything that gives people a sense of control and may help with the work life balance, allowing people to be involved in scheduling shifts, for example. Relatively simple things that employers can do that make a marked difference to the way people feel.”

…and your culture

While you’re reviewing your management style for any issues that might be causing problems, it’s also worthwhile to look more broadly at your work environment. After all, there are plenty of things that can cause your team to become disengaged, overworked, stressed, and – in turn – physically sick as a result.

Open-plan offices, for example, have been known to take a physical toll on teams. “Psychologically, the repercussions of open offices are relatively straightforward. Physical barriers have been closely linked to psychological privacy, and a sense of privacy boosts job performance,” says New Yorker writer Maria Konnikova. “Open offices also remove an element of control, which can lead to feelings of helplessness.”

Konnikova cites study after study exposing the detrimental impacts of the modern workplace. Most notable is a Danish study that found a significant correlation between absences due to sickness and open-plan offices.

Another thing to look at: snacks. Many offices entice top talent with the promise of free food, but what exactly is on offer? Are you filling your kitchen with chips, candy, and beer? If you’re doing a team lunch, where do you go? Is water readily available? If you’re giving your team a daily sugar crash, that can quickly translate into bigger health issues, and more sick days.

Focus on prevention

If you’re seeing a surge in sick days, it might be the perfect time to implement a wellness programs. Putting a focus on healthy eating, physical activity, anti-smoking initiatives can play a huge role in preventing unexpected absences due to illness – not to mention boosting productivity, employee engagement, and more.

See also:
The do’s and don’ts of workplace mental health initiatives
What employers need to know about marijuana in the workplace
Understanding small business health insurance
6 cool workplace wellness programs


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Join the discussion One Comment

  • Anonymous says:

    I absolutely agree with this. Micromanaging is absolutely TOXIC.

    I spent 6 years working for a completely disorganized micro-manager in a small office with a staff of 5 (3 regular). When my boss wasn’t on endless vacations or chatting up anyone who offered a distraction from the constant, useless, time-killing emails she fired off to staff; she was interrupting my work relentlessly with “ideas” for projects I could add to my already towering workload. Available resources- financial and human- be damned, if she deemed it so in the moment, it was my “job” to make it happen with no critical path, budget, reasonable timeline set in place, or assistance offered.

    She was a nepotist who hired friends and family, played favourites with “pet” employees who for some reason could get away with doing even less than bare minimum while I tried to juggle multiple responsibilities, most of which were the result of having the buck passed to me out of laziness. Her favourite way of getting staff stoked about meeting a deadline was a phrase we all hated “Oh my god, time to panic!!”.
    She burnt out every volunteer who ever stepped foot in there to help. Don’t even get me started on the deplorably messy appearance of the open concept office (she would regularly leave used tissues and congealing cups of half-finished coffee next to the dozen post-it “to do” notes she would leave for me on my desk). Her boyfriend hung out in her office for large portions of the day, 2-3 hour lunches etc, abuse of generous vacation time roll-overs (her only- no one else got vacation time- unless they wanted to be guilt tripped and dumped on when they got back), claiming expenses she shouldn’t, etc…

    I eventually had to go on anxiety medication just to get through day-to-day activities and to be able to cope with her constant looming over my shoulder, nit-picking every little detail, but ignoring always ignoring the big picture somehow. It was maddening. The minute I was offered an opportunity, I got out of there faster than if my hair had been on fire. After a year in a new, amazing position, the fog has lifted and I see how badly working for her (never any praise whatsoever) affected my self-esteem and passion for my work.

    I am now a manager myself, an am hyper-aware and make extra efforts to do the exact opposite of what I think she would do. I trust my employees, give lots of praise and always factor in their workload as much as possible when making any requests. Sadly, my contract is ending in a month, and I have a real almost irrational fear of ending up working for another boss like her.

    My replacement at that job (a colleague) is currently miserable and desperate to get out after just one year. She will not get off his back even after he has given her a doctor’s note saying that the work stress is aggravating an existing medical condition he suffers from. They don’t have an HR department, so he doesn’t know what to do (I met her boss ONCE in 6 years as he works at another location, our department was obviously low priority). She honestly thinks people leave only because the position is still part-time after 5 people in that position have come and gone in the ten years she’s been there. She lost some pretty great people because of this behaviour she refuses to acknowledge and correct. Amazingly, no one else seems to see it because she is charming and puts on a good front. I have no idea how the place stayed afloat under her management.

    Totally clueless, and there are far too many managers like her.

    Ugh. End rant.

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