doctorSickies cost Australian businesses $30 billion a year, according to Cleardocs.

This covers all businesses including retail but as you will see, retail heads the list.

In 2010, the number of sick days per year per employee hit a staggering 9.87. This compares to seven in the UK and six in the US.

There is much euphonious reasoning of why sickies are taken and what can be done to improve the situation.

This reasoning usually emanates from HR sources and targets the employee almost as a victim.

“Create a positive workplace, listen to employees, be aware of stress, support work life balance principles” and other platitudes. Who writes this stuff?

Realbusiness states that according to research in the UK last year, retail employees pull the most sickies.

Only 29 per cent of the respondents said they were genuinely ill, while 26 per cent said they were rarely ill when calling in sick.

The most popular reasons for calling in sick are as follows:

  • Hangovers – 27 per cent
  • Shopping – 19 per cent
  • Utilities appointments – 17 per cent
  • Planned activities (days out etc.) – 15 per cent
  • Job interviews – 12 per cent.

The overly sympathetic HR approach does not seem to have much bearing on any of these reasons.

There is clear evidence that unionised workplaces have a much higher rate of absenteeism compared to non unionised environments.

Workers see sickies as an entitlement and if they are allowed 12 per annum, it is criminal not to take them.

Impact Retailing has recently been retained by a large overseas retailer to examine this issue which of course is not peculiar to Australia.

So far, we have found a cultural connection apart from the other common reasons, which bears out to some degree the difference between unionised and non unionised attitudes.

We are in the process of looking closely at alternatives including the Levi Strauss model of granting employees 12 extra days of annual leave in lieu of sick leave.

This basically ‘legalises’ the union approach.

We are also looking at other incentives both in terms of quantum and type.

One obvious benefit to reducing sickies is the uncertainty that confronts management.

In a small retail operation having one person off sick can be extremely difficult while having two off, can be a disaster.

We will be testing our findings empirically and we hope to have a result by the first quarter of next year.

A free truncated report will be available and if you would like a copy, please email us accordingly.

Stuart Bennie is a retail consultant at Impact Retailing and can be contacted at or 0414 631 702


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