Tackling the Long Weekend Syndrome

Oct 06 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

It doesn't come as any great surprise to find that research has once again confirmed that the most common days for British workers to take sickness absence is either Monday or Friday.

In fact so pervasive is the problem that employment law experts have dubbed the trend the "Long Weekend Syndrome".

According to a survey more than 600 small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) carried out by the Employment Law Advisory Services (ELAS), nine out of 10 employers in Britain say that employees sneak extra days off work either side of the weekend.

Two thirds of employers told researchers that that Monday was by far the worst day of the week for sickness, with almost a quarter saying that Friday was the day they were affected most.

"Everyone suffers from the Monday morning blues from time to time," said Pam Rogerson, head of personnel at ELAS.

"But some people are taking this to extremes, not necessarily taking a lot of time off sick over the course of a year, but making sure they only ever fall ill around a weekend."

With workplace absence costing the UK economy £12.2bn in 2004 - some £1.7bn of which is due to staff "pulling sickies" rather than absence resulting from genuine ill-health - employers are adopting a variety of ways of fighting back.

ELAS has used its legal expertise to develop Employersafe, a piece of software that spots employees who take a lot of time off sick and those whose patterns of illness are also a cause for concern.

"While managers might have a good idea which staff suffer from Long Weekend Syndrome, few have the time to go through their records and count exactly when they are off sick," Pam Rogerson said.

"Employersafe does that for them, spotting patterns such as only ringing in sick on a Monday, or always falling ill after a bank holiday, for example."

But while software can help spot problems, reducing overall levels of absenteeism requires an integrated approach that manages the causes of absence and encourages an early return to work.

The challenge is particularly acute in Britain's public sector, where average absence levels are 10.3 days per employee per year, compared to 6.8 days in the private sector. But as the example of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) demonstrates, the problem is far from insurmountable.

From an annual absence rate of 17 days a year for each employee when it was established in 2002, RBH has reduced its sickness absence rate by the equivalent of three working days per employee over the last 12 months.

At the heart of its approach is a 'day 1' absence reporting procedure from a private company, Active Health Partners.

RBH employees must now report all absences to Active Health Partners' nurse contact centre, where a nurse offers confidential medical advice and agrees with the employee an expected return to work date.

The manager is immediately notified of the absence by email. The nurse will agree a time with the employee to make a follow-up call to check progress and offer further medical advice.

The service also allows authorised managers to access a secure website where they can view real time reports on sickness levels within their teams or departments, together with reports which allow them to look at trends and patterns of sickness.

"From our review, the clear thing that came through was that the best way of [dealing with] absence was to tackle it from day one and make sure employees were getting good health advice immediately when they became ill," said Business Support Director, Gareth Swarbrick.

He added that reporting absences to trained nurses has meant fewer employees were tempted to exaggerate or make up illnesses.

"When an employee phones to report an absence, if they try to pull the wool over the nurses' eyes, they're going to be found out. From the figures that we've seen, I think that's definitely happened."


Older Comments

The software is a crock of s**t

all it does is allow you to enter absences and then shows them on a calender

nothing new

Oliver Readman