Employees take 4 days of sick leave a year: Poll

Pedestrians crossing a road at Shenton Way on Aug 30, 2013. Employees use up, on average, only about four days of their outpatient sick leave entitlements each year, a new survey has found. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Pedestrians crossing a road at Shenton Way on Aug 30, 2013. Employees use up, on average, only about four days of their outpatient sick leave entitlements each year, a new survey has found. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Flexible arrangements, more paternity, eldercare leave keep MCs down: HR experts

Employees use up, on average, only about four days of their outpatient sick leave entitlements each year, a new survey has found.

This is less than a third of the average 14 days of medical leave which most people are given by their employers.

And when asked if they have ever called in sick when they were not actually ill, more than eight out of 10 respondents claimed they have never lied to their doctors or bosses to get a day off.

These were the findings from a poll of 1,000 employees from across different sectors that was commissioned by The Sunday Times and conducted online by career portal STJobs over the last three weeks.

HR experts and industry watchers generally agree with the results, saying the low rate of people calling in sick with medical certificates (MC) could be due to flexible work arrangements, which are more common these days.

Civil servants, for instance, can now call in sick without an MC for two days a year. The "progressive human resource practice" was implemented in April by the Public Service Division after consultation with the various ministries.

More companies offering paternity and eldercare leave in recent years, in addition to existing maternity and extended childcare leave entitlements, for instance, have also helped keep the "MC rate" low.

There were, however, some sceptics like HR consultant Martin Gabriel of HRMatters21, who believes the national average may be higher - about six days in a year.

"But I suppose people might take fewer days of leave because they're concerned about being branded MC King or Queen, and being seen as lazy," he said. Aside from actual health reasons, he said the number of days an employee calls in sick is highly correlated to his total leave entitlements.

"That is why I've always warned companies that if their leave allowance is too low, the number of MCs will go up," he said. "Lower leave entitlement may also see higher abuse of medical leave."

About 16 per cent of the employees polled admitted they have called in sick this year even though they were fit to work. This was almost double the 9 per cent who admitted doing the same in a poll of 1,000 people in October by travel website Skyscanner.

Still, experts like Mr David Ang said the figure was lower than expected. The associate director of HR consultancy Remuneration Data Specialists said a more indicative figure would be about one in four, or 25 per cent. "We know of employees who resort to taking MCs if they are late, or just want to get away from work," he said.

A further breakdown showed almost four in 10 of the respondents who said they had called in sick when they were not, were either in banking or education.

Mr Josh Goh, assistant director of corporate services at human resources firm The GMP Group, said more educators called in sick even though they were fit to work because their work schedules are relatively inflexible.

"For teachers, there is almost no way to take one day off during term time - they have to wait until the term break," he said.

"Those in the banking industry, on the other hand, may be feeling burnt out and tired, and decide that they need a day off."

An employee in finance, who declined to be named, agreed. "I work long hours, and I do feel burnt out," said the 26-year-old, who has been working for just over a year. "Getting an MC was a convenient option to get some rest."

Mr Goh said employers, however, are aware that having staff on sick leave is quite unproductive, and many have started to implement healthy lifestyle programmes in the workplace.

Mr Mark Hall, vice-president and country manager of Kelly Services, said: "Work-life balance arrangements and flexible leave benefits mean that employees are less likely to burn out."

linettel@sph.com.sg

asyiqins@sph.com.sg