Originally posted 18 July 2011 in the UK “Safety & Health Practitioner” newsletter. Reprinted by permission.


One in three workers admits to fibbing so they can take time off work, and disenchantment with their job is the chief reason for doing so.

Research commissioned by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on attitudes to absence found that while good weather, hangovers, and romance are the respective motivations for 11 percent, 18 percent, and 5 percent of fake absenteeism, the majority (61 per cent) claim they are simply bored and depressed with work.

Neil Roden, HR consulting partner at PwC, said: “Absenteeism costs British business around £32bn a year, but our findings suggest a large chunk of this loss is preventable. If people are bored and depressed with their jobs, employers need to think creatively how they can get people back in gear. Rather than a sign of laziness, unwarranted leave can mean people are under-used.”

The survey also highlights the lengths to which people go to make their absence seem credible. Illness is the favored excuse for 83 per cent of “skivers” – with four out of ten even faking symptoms around the office in preparation for a day off. Some 16 percent sniff at work, another 12 percent pretend to lose their voice, while 5 percent have even used props, such as bandages, crutches and make-up. Half of all excuses involve gastro-related problems, which are difficult to prove.

PwC warns that employers need to get to grips with false absence, not least because taking a day off for a false reason can encourage more unwarranted time off work. A third of workers think they’d be more likely to take unmerited leave if they see their colleagues getting away with it, while two thirds of those who call in sick on false pretences say their sick days appear more credible if they pretend to be ill for more than one day.

On average, survey respondents believe they can take around five days of non-genuine absence before their employer becomes suspicious.

While most workers (79 percent) phone in sick themselves, 9 percent get someone else to do so; 5 percent text; 3 percent e-mail; and the same proportion leave a message before anyone is in the office.

Neil Roden commented: “Employers need to use both carrot and stick. If it’s very easy to call in sick, or you don’t even need to call at all, then people are more likely to abuse the system. But if there’s more of a process to follow, people are more likely to think twice about taking time off.”

Family responsibilities (21 per ent) also feature prominently as a reason for people taking time off work, while 15 percent who provided false excuses felt they deserved the time off. To tackle this type of absence, PwC suggests introducing, or enhancing flexible-working arrangements.

Pets also feature in a large proportion of excuses, with dog-related problems most common, followed by those involving budgies, and then hamsters.