How to prevent ‘National Sick Day’ every day

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Bad news: National Sick Day comes hot on the heels of this month’s ‘Blue Monday’, said to be the most depressing day of the year. Are you prepared?

The first Monday in February - this year on 1st February itself - is apparently when the highest number of workers will call in sick as an excuse for a day off. The idea of more staff throwing a sickie on a particular day of the year may seem gimmicky, but as an employer it’s worth asking a serious question.

If you feel your staff are at risk of not wanting to come to work on any day - whether that means not logging on from home, or turning up to a physical workplace - what steps can you take to help the situation?

National Sick Day alert: Online searches for ‘signs of burnout’ have increased

The World Health Organisation defines burnout as, among other things, having ‘feelings of energy exhaustion or depletion’ and ‘reduced performance’.

It’s very clear that the pandemic has had a huge negative effect on mental health, and not surprisingly Google had seen a steep rise in searches for ‘signs of burnout’ in 2020 compared to pre-pandemic times of 2019.

Watch for signs of burnout

Talking to job candidates and clients every day at HR GO, we recognise that organisations must take urgent steps to prioritise staff emotional wellbeing (we’ve written more on this here).

So aim to give extra support to employees who could be at risk for calling in sick on National Sick Day and seem to be:

  • taking less interest in their work
  • getting less satisfaction from work
  • showing less attention to detail or making more mistakes than usual
  • responding late to meetings or requests
  • communicating less and reaching out less frequently as usual
  • showing up late to meetings (either remote video calls or in-person on-site catch ups)
  • responding more negatively than usual to requests
  • more irritable with colleagues or managers

Minimise Zoom fatigue

For many organisations with remote teams, video calls are the new normal. And while collaborating and communicating via video makes it easier for many to work from the safety of their homes, the feeling of having to be always video-ready can take its toll. The challenge in separating work and living space at home compounds this further.

Back-to-back video meetings can be exhausting - which is why ‘Zoom fatigue’ is now a thing. So to prevent burnout, aim to limit the amount of video meetings you ask your employees to do (email and instant messaging could work just as well).

Other sound steps include allowing participants to attend in audio-only (turning off their video function) and building in plenty of breaks to video-heavy days. We’ve shared more of our tips on how to help your team get the most out of virtual collaboration tools like video but still keep energy levels up, in our blog: 'Does your team have Zoom fatique?'

Acknowledge on-site stresses

People who can’t do their jobs remotely and so have to leave home to do their work experience a different set of stresses that could also lead them to call in sick on National Sick Day.

Even with efficient COVID-safe measures in place, the very act of going to work increases the level of risk of infection to themselves, their families and their colleagues - and inevitably that takes its toll. It’s clear that employees in many sectors will experience higher levels of stress and burnout than usual because of the people-facing nature of their work - particularly in health and social care, education and retail.

Keep in close contact

If you haven’t already, we recommend starting a conversation with employees about the uncertainty and stress the pandemic is causing - and carrying on that dialogue indefinitely.

One-to-one catch ups can be a good way to find out if employees - remote or on-site - are struggling with their emotional wellbeing. Talking is a crucial first step, but don’t assume that people will feel comfortable about sharing their emotions - even during a non-work chat.

Give a day off?

It might not be possible for your particular organisation, but is one way to head off National Sick Day giving staff a day off to recharge?

In May 2020, Google announced an official day off, with the words ‘Take the time to do whatever you need to do to prioritize your wellbeing’. Following the disruption of people’s working and personal lives due to coronavirus, it’s more crucial than ever to recognise things that employers can do to prevent staff reaching their breaking point.

Prioritising employee health and wellbeing - and taking steps to prevent staff feeling like they have to throw a sickie - is one of them.

Get help

Professional support for employees who need it is crucial, and the charity Mind has produced a guide on how to support staff with a mental health problem, here.

There’s also a free guide from Bupa: ‘Open up at work: a manager’s guide’ to help organisations speak to staff about their wellbeing and mental health.

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