Putting sickly time off to bed

It’s winter, a time when sniffles, colds and coughs are all too common and while many take a legitimate sick day to recuperate, there are those who are inclined to lie about being sick in order to enjoy a day under the duvet.

UNHEALTHY CHOICE: Claiming a sick day should only be done when one is too sick to carry out work duties effectively. However, the world over, particularly in winter, employees claim a sick day when they are not actually all that sick Picture: ISTOCK.COM

That’s according to a study conducted by pharmaceutical company Pharma Dynamics, who said a recent survey of 1500 SA employees revealed that 40% of the respondents would be inclined to take a “sickie”, (a day taken as sick leave when one is not actually ill) either in June or July just to get a day out of the office.

Pharma Dynamics spokeswoman, Nicole Jennings, said the reason could be a combination of the miserable weather and the spate of colds and flu conditions expected this season, which make June and July the most popular months of the year to take a duvet day.

Jennings said the top excuses for calling in sick include:

  • Coming down with a cold, flu, stomach bug or migraine (78%);
  • Personal reasons (27%);
  • Home emergencies such as a burst geyser or alarm problems (19%);
  • Stress or burn-out, which was tied with having to look after a sick relative or partner (15%);
  • Transport difficulties where either a bus, train or taxi is running late or car trouble (8%);
  • Oversleeping (7%);
  • Making an appointment weeks ago that you forgot to inform the office about and can’t cancel at the last minute (5%);
  • A hangover (4%); and
  • Breaking out in a rash (1%).

“Nearly a third of those polled admitted that they’ve pulled a sickie before, 45% of whom said they do so two to three times a year, while a few chancers, 15% in fact, do so even more often,” Jennings said.

“The 40% whose conscience probably gets the better of them, can only bring themselves to do so once annually. What makes matters even worse is that they don’t do so on their own.

“More than a whopping 51% rope in their partners or children to take a duvet day with them, with 20% either didn’t have a partner or a child, which implied that if they did, they’d probably get them to bunk with them too. The remaining 29% preferred to do so solo.”

According to workplace health and wellness experts, Occupational Care South Africa (Ocsa), absenteeism from work costs the South African economy around R12-billion to R16-billion annually.

The employee experts also estimate that two out of three employees who fail to show up for work aren’t physically ill, with 40.57% of employees providing sick notes with no diagnoses.

Labour law expert Jonathan Goldberg said sick leave is abused by employees currently, with many feeling entitled to the days off, even when they are not legitimately ill.

He said employees needed to note that sick leave should only be taken for serious illness in situations where one is too sick to carry out one’s work duties effectively.

“These are days that should not just be taken when one wants a day off or a day to get on with other things. I think the issue is that companies don’t enforce this with their employees and make it known that taking sick leave when not sick is really not on,” Goldberg said.

“Employees need to realise that a bad sick leave record reflects badly on them. How many employees with a bad sick leave record do you think get promoted when an opportunity presents itself in the organisation? I don’t think they even get considered. Employees need to start looking at this from this point of view,” Goldberg said.

Jennings said employers were within their rights to challenge the authenticity of an excuse by requesting a doctor’s note or ask for evidence if they start to notice a pattern of absenteeism.

She added that most employees who responded to the survey were now making use of new technology to report that they are ill to their employers.

“Gone are the days when sick employees had to phone the boss or office manager directly to offer an explanation. These days the most popular way to call in sick by far is SMSing or sending a WhatsApp message (62%),” she said.

“Less than a third (30%) still does so telephonically, probably as a result of strict company policy, and 7% informs work of their absenteeism via e-mail.”

Some Daily Dispatch readers shared their views on sick leave. While one reader said sick leave was handy as it provided time off work to attend to family-related matters, another said taking time off from the office was not possible due to the amount of work.

Meshack Thato said: “Sick leave sometimes helps us, especially in hard times. Employers might deny you family responsibility leave and you are forced to attend a family traditional ceremony and a sick note is the only option”.

Another reader, Phila Pisto, said she struggled with the amount of correspondence from the office throughout the day, despite being legitimately sick.

“Where I’m working, when you’re sick you would wish to be in deep sleep or comatose the whole time that others are at work and only wake up after they’ve knocked off because you will be bothered by the notification sounds of e-mails that will be flooding your cellphone,” she said, while Ceba Mlandu said some employers did not believe one was genuinely ill at this time of the year.

“The sorcery comes when you are genuinely sick but your employer doesn’t believe you because of this flu season malarkey.”

Eating well has been recommended as a way of keeping healthy throughout the year which could keep colds and flu at bay.

In a story which appeared in the Dispatch earlier this year, Association for Dietetics in South Africa spokeswoman Lila Bruk said people should ensure they regularly eat peppers, tomatoes, citrus fruits and guavas as these are foods naturally high in Vitamin C.

To prevent the flu, Bruk encouraged foods like garlic which has antiviral properties, broccoli which is high in anti-oxidant beta-carotene, which helps the body fight disease and cashew nuts, which are high in zinc, a mineral known to fight off colds.

Aside from food, Jennings recommended taking a supplement that contains vitamin C, Echinacea and zinc, which in combination have been proven to strengthen the immune system. “Vitamin C concentrations in the body tend to decline as a result of stress or infection and since it isn’t produced by the body, it needs constant replenishing via food sources. “However, in our rushed day and age, it may not be practical for most people to consume the required servings of fruit and vegetables needed on a consistent basis, whereas taking a once-daily supplement is safe and effective.

“Both zinc and Echinacea increases the number of white blood cells, which fight infections and reduce the chances of catching a cold. Therefore, all three nutrients play a vital role in combating colds and flu,” she explained, adding that SA should brace itself for more cold and flu outbreaks this winter because of warmer than usual temperatures.

“A typical cold or flu can last up to a week, but if you’ve contracted a more severe strain you could be down for two weeks or longer, even in individuals considered to be otherwise healthy. The best way to thwart colds and flu symptoms is to get enough sleep, eating a balanced and healthy diet consisting of fresh fruit, vegetables and protein, drinking enough water and boosting your immunity with a supplement recommended by either your GP or pharmacist,” she said. — zisandan@dispatch.co.za

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