Three practical steps that companies can follow to reduce illegitimate sick leave

In my second blog post I want to talk about the implications that absenteeism of workers has on companies, and suggest three practical steps that companies can follow to avoid high rates of sick leave. According to Wikipedia sick leave is defined as “time off from work that workers can use to stay home to address their health and safety needs without losing pay”.


Unfortunately, the rules of sick leave are also misused. Imagine yourself being in a senior management position in a big multinational company. Would you ever get frustrated with workers who call in sick too often? Or would you be more concerned about sick people who do not stay at home, and spread illness to other colleagues?


Sick leave for companies, whether it happens for legitimate or illegitimate reasons, constitute a major problem for many organizations. It imposes huge costs on companies every year, however, what do all of these sick days really cost a company?


First of all, sick days delay work that might cause projects to fall behind in schedule. In addition, they create stress for colleagues, who try to make up for a missing person. These colleagues might need to work overtime, hours that add to overtime bills paid by a company. In contrast, some workers do not receive sick pay and, hence, try to avoid missing work. If they come to work ill, they may pass their illness to their colleagues causing even more people to become sick. As we can see some people use sick pay policies to their advantage. I will suggest three practical steps that companies can follow to reduce illegitimate absenteeism.


When doing my research I stumbled upon a very interesting fact. According to the Telegraph “public sector workers are 60% more likely to take sick days than their private sector counterparts”. This statement really caught my curiosity and I started to think about the reasons for this fact. Eventually, I came up with three fundamental actions, which in my opinion every company should follow to reduce absenteeism (and to increase performance).


Firstly, companies should try to increase job satisfaction.


Of course this is a lot easier said than done and the question really is what actions companies can take to achieve this. I believe that there are many ways in which job satisfaction can be reached; such as being appreciated for your work, having a great relationship with your colleagues, or enjoying a great work-life balance.

However, I want to focus on one specific point, which I personally believe to be the most important one. A great job should be fun and if you are working your tail off without deriving any enjoyment something is most probably wrong. One defining mark of a fun culture is that the fun comes from everywhere. The key is to set the boundaries of what is permissible as broadly as possible. One company that manages this very well is Google. In 2010 two Google engineers launched an internal site called Memegen, which lets Googlers create memes. One of the pictures of former CEO Eric Schmidt can be seen below.


Secondly, companies have to ensure that employees feel like they are working for a purpose.



There are many people that enter the office, drop their briefcase with a thud that sounds like prison cell doors closing behind them, and wonder what it might be like to enjoy what they do rather than just moving papers around on their desk. Therefore, it is extremely important that companies bring more meaning to each and everyone’s career. However, giving each employee a purpose is very difficult because usually for most companies the ultimate goal boils down to profit maximization. Hence, I encourage companies to promote social work, which employees can do next to doing their “real work”. For example, next to the many chemicals that BASF is producing, it recently started producing mosquito nets for African countries. In addition, companies should incentivize their employees and give out rewards (e.g. top 5% performing employees).

The third action that I encourage companies to pursue is the promotion of work engagement.



As I was the expert of the day about this topic, I know that especially promoting task variety and task significance is important to foster work engagement. Providing employees with different tasks, and making them understand the significance of their job for the organization are simple actions that companies can follow, which have significant positive consequences on work engagement and consequently also on sick leave (and job performance).


All in all I found the discussion about sick leave we had in class very interesting. Therefore, I conducted some research and personally came up with three practical steps that companies should follow to reduce illegitimate sick leave: job satisfaction, working for a purpose, and work engagement.



Links and references:


Schmidt, E.; Rosenberg, J. (2014). How Google Works.


Interesting TEDx Talk about work engagement and work-life balance:

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