I can't come in, my hamster died. No, really ...
What's the best excuse you've heard for a sick day?
One of our contractors told me last week that she had to go home to dunk her backside in a cold bath to help numb the swelling. Pardon?
Jane had just returned from a family holiday in the US. On the final day she went for a run in the bush, and 15 minutes into the run, nature called. After doing what she needed to do, Jane used what she thought was grass as a substitute for toilet paper - only to find out two hours later she had used stinging nettles. Ouch!
After I stopped laughing and realised she really was telling us the truth, I started to wonder about what would be the best excuses for a sickie. I didn't have to go too far to find out. A recent UK survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that one-in-three UK workers have used creative license to take sick leave.
PwC questioned 1190 people and 34 per cent admitted to stretching the truth to take time off work. The majority said they took time off from work because they felt bored or were depressed with their jobs.
Here are some of the most creative reasons:
A can of baked beans landed on my big toe; I was swimming too fast and smacked my head on the poolside; I've been bitten by an insect; My car handbrake broke and it rolled down the hill into a lamppost; My dog has had a big fright and I don't want to leave him; My hamster died; I've injured myself during sex; I slipped on a coin; I've had a sleepless night; My mum has died (this was the second time the person used this excuse); My new girlfriend bit me in a delicate place; I burned my hand on the toaster; The dog ate my shoes; My fish is sick; My toe is trapped in the bath tap; I'm in emergency as I got a clothes peg stuck on my tongue; I drank too much and fell asleep on someone's floor - I don't know where I am; My trousers split on the way to work; I've had a hair dye disaster; I've got a sore finger.
Closer to home, the Kronos Global Absence Survey reported that 58 per cent of Australians have thrown a sickie in the previous 12 months. That gives us the bronze medal of surveyed countries, behind only China (71 per cent) and India (62 per cent).
Research published in Punch magazine in 2012 proclaimed the average Australian now takes 9.3 sick days each year. This equates to more than 80 million days of sick leave per annum and is a 7.9 per cent rise from two years ago.
Sick leave now costs the Australian economy $30 billion a year (a combination of decreased productivity, financial costs and administration costs). By comparison, the average British worker takes seven days of sick leave each year and the average US worker takes three days.
A survey by Morgan & Banks published in the film Land of the Long Weekend highlighted 12.4 per cent of people admitted that none of the sickies they had taken in the previous year had been for genuine reasons (although I'm not sure if their reasons for having a sick day were as creative as the PwC UK survey). Sixty-seven per cent preferred to take a sickie on a Monday, and 25 per cent chose a Friday because it gave them a long weekend. No surprise there.
What can companies do to try and minimise sick leave? The most important aspect in relation to sick leave is staff engagement. Employer-related causes of increased absenteeism include:
Low morale; poor working conditions; lack of job satisfaction or career progression; inadequate leadership and poor management; work-related stress; employee politics and discontent; and excessive workload.
The flip side of this is that highly engaged workforces report much less absenteeism and much lower levels of turnover. Forward-thinking employers are starting to offer workers "mental health days" or buy-back schemes where they can purchase extra holidays throughout the year.
And for employees, looking after yourself physically and mentally is a proven way to decrease the amount of illness you experience each year.
What's the best excuse you have used or the best excuse you have heard to take a sick day?