Do You Call in Sick?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Do Canadian workers take too many – or too few – days off for illness?  The answer, it seems, depends on whether the days of absence are for legitimate illness or not.

Most managers and executives would prefer for their reports to call in sick when they are actually sick.  After all, they need to protect the rest of the staff from contagious diseases.  The more employees fall ill, the more production suffers, so better to lose one employee for a day or two than to lose another, then another, then another. Also, ailing employees are less productive and can be disruptive to the rest of the staff (with coughing, sneezing and sniffling, for example).

Unfortunately, a lot of people insist on going to work when they are sick.  This practice, called presenteeism, is common because employees worry about:

  • What co-workers think – Will they say I’m not pulling my weight?

  • What bosses think – Will they believe I’m not totally committed to my job?

  • Pay – Unless you’re a salaried worker, you probably don’t get paid for sick time, and often these workers can’t afford to miss a day.

A report in the August 2012 edition of the Journal of Internal Medicine revealed that even healthcare workers come to work when they are exhibiting flulike symptoms. 

On the other hand, a report released by The Workforce Institute™ at Kronos Incorporated in August 2011 reflects that Canadian workers, along with employees worldwide, take sick days when they are not sick. The Kronos Global Absence Survey shows China leading the pack in playing hooky, with 71% of employees surveyed admitting to sometimes calling in sick when they were not.  About half of workers surveyed in Canada and the United States said they sometimes report off when they are not sick.

Who’s Playing Hooky?

Workers who say they have called off sick when they are not

China 71%
India 62%
Australia 58%
Canada 52%
United States 52%
United Kingdom 43%
Mexico 38%
France 16%

Source: Kronos Global Absence Survey, August 2011

What about the why? Why do employees call in sick if they are not?  More than any other country surveyed, Canada says stress. A hefty 71% of the Canadians who admitted to taking a sick day when they aren’t sick said they do it because they feel so stressed that they need a day off.  The chart below illustrates how Canada compares to other countries surveyed.

Who Calls Off for Stress?

Workers who say they take a sick day to relieve stress:

Canada 71%
United States 62%
China 60%
United Kingdom 57%
France 53%
Australia 51%
Mexico 46%
India 44%                    

Source: Kronos Global Absence Survey, August 2011

Other reasons for calling off when they aren’t sick include needing to care for a sick child or other dependent, not having enough paid leave and carrying too heavy a workload.  Survey respondents said that employers could alleviate absenteeism by providing flexible hours and additional paid time off.

How many days does the typical Canadian worker take off?  Statistics Canada offers a look at the peaks and valleys in sick and personal days over the past decade as well as recent data showing geographic differences.

Absenteeism 2001 - 2011


Days Lost Annually

per Worker 

DAys lost for


Days lost for


2001 8.5 7.0 1.5
2002 9.1 7.4 1.7
2003 9.2 7.5 1.7
2004 9.2 7.5 1.7
2005 9.7 7.8 1.8
2006 9.7 7.6 2.1
2007 9.9 8.1 1.8
2008 9.7 7.9 1.8
2009 9.5 7.8 1.7
2010 9.1 7.4 1.7
2011 9.3 7.7 1.6

Source: Statistics Canada

Absenteeism by Geography 2011                                                                        

Province/Region   Days Lost Annually per Worker Illness/Disability Personal
Atlantic Provinces  10.6 8.9 1.7
Newfoundland/Labrador 10.2 8.5 1.8
Price Edward Island  9.9 8.3  1.5
Nova Scotia 10.8 9.0 1.8
New Brunswick 10.8  9.2 1.7
Quebec 10.8  9.3  1.5
Ontario 8.3 6.6 1.7
Prairie Provinces   8.8  7.0 1.8
Manitoba   10.2 8.2 1.9
Saskatchewan  11.0 8.8 2.2
Alberta  7.9 6.3 1.6
British Columbia 9.9 8.3 1.6

Source: Statistics Canada

Sources: CBC News, Kronos Incorporated, Statistics Canada