The Stigma of Calling in Sick

The Stigma of Calling in Sick

Read Time: 10 Minutes


18 Mar 2020

Have you ever called in sick and worried about what your boss and colleagues might think? Perhaps you’ve wanted to phone HR in the past because you’re struggling with your mental health, but have felt as though you can’t? Even in today’s world, there is still an air of negativity around not coming into work when you’re genuinely unwell. 

Whether that’s because of external pressures we might feel from our bosses or an internal struggle we have with ourselves, it seems as though we’re not alone.

In light of current events, it’s integral that both employees and businesses across the globe take a more serious stance when it comes to the inherent stigma behind calling in sick, and with the ever increasing coverage of said pandemic, aided by the new government allowances in regard to sick pay, it is hoped that workers across the globe will take heed and act both sensibly and without selfishness. 

Our recent study surveyed 1,000 UK workers on their perception of sick day stigmas and whether or not they’re likely to call their boss or ride it out.


1 in 10 Brits called in sick for 5 days

With UK employees calling in sick for an average of 2.6 days in 2019, and 1 in 10 doing so for 5 days in the last year, could there be an underlying reason why us Brits want to spend so much time out of the office?

It seems as though there might be! Shockingly, over a third of Brits have pulled a sickie when they’ve not actually been unwell! We’ve compiled a list of the top 5 most faked excuses employees use when throwing a sickie at work: 


Mental health days on the rise

For many of us, full-time employment is a huge part of our everyday lives. With mortgages and rent, bills and other regular payments to make, it’s easy to see why! But with that comes a certain amount of strain on our mental health. Whether your company offers you mental health support or not, out of the 1,000 surveyed, more than a third have taken a sick day in the past for mental health reasons, with 15% doing so regularly. 

On the other hand, 65% of Brits have never called in for mental health reasons. But are businesses doing enough to support those who need help?


What justifies a sick day to you?

Whether you agree with your colleagues or not, there are a number of reasons you may feel the need to call in sick, and not all are illness-related. You’d expect if you came down with the flu to call in sick, as would 71% of Brits, and if you suffered with the loss of a family member, then you’d be among the 63% of those surveyed who would agree. 

Despite the rise in cases, just 50% of Brits believe that mental health and anxiety-related reasons warrant a day off sick, and only 31% believe stress is a valid reason to do so. Out of those asked, the results showed that women are more likely to call in sick for mental health reasons than men (39% compared to 32%). 


Would you call into the office if you were struggling? Let us know on social media @instantprintuk

Does your job mean you’re more likely to take a sick day?

Would you assume that those with high-stress jobs are more likely to call in sick? If you answered yes then you’re on the right track, as instantprint found that those in the emergency services had the most sick days overall (4.3), and those working in HR departments or in legal professions also boasted a high number of days off (4.1).

However, while most of us would only call in with genuine illnesses, there are some industries whose employees are more likely to pull a sickie than others. If you work in sales, unfortunately you’re at the top of the list; the perfect excuse if you want to call out your colleagues every once in a while. 

Shockingly, the results showed that those who work in law are also some of the most likely to fake an illness to gain a day off. Could this be because of the pressures? It could well be, as health professionals such as doctors, nurses and dentists are up there too. 

Do you feel a stigma around calling in sick?

Whether you feel it or not, the results show there still does seem to be a stigma around being ill. And, if more than a third of those who work in HR feel so much pressure not to call in sick that they simply never do, how do the rest of the workforce feel?

This prompted us to take a deep dive into our data and explore which cities are the most likely to call in sick. London, Leeds and Edinburgh are less likely to feel bad for calling in sick it would seem, as people from these cities repot the higher average amount of sick days taken. However, Bristol, Norwich and Glasgow seem to be less more likely to be feeling the stigma. Take a look at our destination report to see if your city is on the list!


Vicki Russell

About the Author

Hi, I’m Vicki. I’m Head of HR at instantprint. I use my knowledge and experience to help business owners implement strong human resource practices and procedures.