Nearly a quarter of employees fear boss’ judgement for calling in sick

According to new research by AXA PPP healthcare, 23 per cent of employees say they won’t tell their line manager the real reason for their absence when calling in sick because they’re afraid of being judged.* A further 15 per cent say they’re afraid they won’t be believed.

29 June 2015

Posted in People

While employees worry about calling in sick, employers are not doing much to allay their fears, showing unsympathetic attitudes towards illness. Only 42 per cent of the senior managers polled agree that flu is a serious enough reason for an employee to be absent from work, with 39 per cent concurring that back pain is also sufficiently serious. The figure falls even further for elective surgery such as a knee replacement operation or cataract surgery, with only 35 per cent of employers accepting this as a valid reason for absence, and only 22 per cent believing that suffering from a migraine warrants time off work.

Employees are much more likely to lie to their boss about the reason for being off sick if the cause of sickness is related to mental rather than to physical health. While around three quarters (77 per cent) say they would tell their boss the truth if their sickness was due to a physical ailment such as back pain, flu or an accidental injury, only two in five (39 per cent) would tell the truth if they had to call in sick due to stress, anxiety or depression.

The reluctance to disclose mental health issues is more pronounced in SMEs. Employees working for smaller businesses (up to 250 employees) were less likely to tell their line manager that they were taking time off for stress, anxiety or depression than workers in larger sized firms. While 44 per cent of workers in larger sized companies said they would tell their boss if they were off due to stress, anxiety or depression, only 37 per cent of those working in SMEs said they would do likewise.

Headshot of Glen Parkinson, SME Director for AXA PPP healthcare

With managers showing so little understanding of or support for employees suffering from illness, it’s not difficult to see why employees worry about phoning in sick. Employers need to challenge this blinkered attitude, both for their own benefit as well as that of their employees. In many cases it is more productive for an employee to take a day off to recover from a spell of illness rather than to come into work, with diminished productivity and, for likes of colds and flu, the potential to spread their illness to workmates.

Employers need to trust employees to take the appropriate time off sick and, where practicable, consider allowing them to work from home. Showing sympathy and flexibility when employees are unwell is crucial to maintaining a healthy and committed workforce, which in the long term creates a healthier business.

Glen Parkinson, SME Director at AXA PPP healthcare


*Online survey of 1000 senior business managers, MDs, CEOs and owners and online survey of 1000 other (non-exec) employees undertaken in February 2015 by market researcher OnePoll.