This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Australia, which closed in 2021.

Regular Sickies Are Often The First Sign Of Work Dissatisfaction

Bored office worker at desk staring at computer screen with hand on chin.
Bored office worker at desk staring at computer screen with hand on chin.

Australians have the unfavourable title of being one of the worst nations when it comes to taking sickies but experts say a sneaky day off could be a sign of work dissatisfaction.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show the average public sector worker took eight to nine days of sick leave annually.

Fiona Hitchiner, work-life integration specialist at SeventeenHundred, told The Huffington Post Australia the term 'sickie' could be quite an ominous one for businesses.

“The word sickie reflects a larger trend in the workplace of higher than normal absenteeism," Hitchiner said.

"It usually points to work load, stress, anxiety, culture within the team, bullying or harassment. Or it could be down to the fact that they’re just not engaged in the type of work.

"There’s no ‘one size fits all’ issue but it all points to a wider problem."

She said a sickie should be a prompter for managers to have a supportive conversation about goals and job satisfaction.

"They need to say, 'I’ve noticed you’ve taken time off. Is everything okay? How’s everything at work? Is there anything I can help you with -- your workload, or is something going on at home you’d like to talk about?' Try to find the underlying issue,” she said.

Fiona Hitchiner from SeventeenHundred. Picture Supplied

Hitchiner said disciplinary action against an employee taking regular sick leave should be a last resort.

"Of course there will be the small percentage of people taking sickies as a way of ‘taking the mickey’ but employers need to be supporting the majority of people who might have other issues going on. He or she might be having personal matters outside of work that’s affecting their ability to concentrate, or it could the health concern of a loved one."

"We don’t go to work in a bubble. What impacts us at work, impacts us at home and what impacts us at home also impacts us at work. The important thing is to build trust and support in the workplace."

Psychologist Samantha Symes from PinWheel Psychology told The Huffington Post Australia many people took sick leave because they were not able to balance their life very well, which lead to exhaustion.

"Sick leave isn’t always a sign that someone isn’t coping, it’s more a case that people get sick because they haven’t got things in their life to balance out their workload. Some people don’t stop and look at how their workload is impacting on them until they’re pushed to the point of collapsing – that’s when they take sick leave," Symes said.

"What people need to do is monitor their workload and look at how they can work more productively. Don’t get into a situation where you’re constantly bringing work home with you or staying up late just to clear your inbox. Look at how to maintain a good work/life balance rather than waiting until you’re so exhausted you need to take sick leave. Don't make work a priority over your health."

Hitchiner’s tips for employers

1. Always have open communication with your colleagues. Ask them about work load and how they’re coping. You might spot trends, such as a person is always away on a Tuesday. Perhaps that person is doing a course and trying to get work done.

2. Make it clear flexible work practices are available.

3. Think about work culture. It’s very important and needs to come from senior leadership team and needs to be authentic.

4. Focus on open communication and building trust.

5. Ask your employees what they need. Ask how they are coping.

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