Mondays in January See Heavy U.K. Workplace Absences

November 9, 2009 ( – Searching for U.K. workers on a Monday in January might not be a productive use of one’s time.

A new Mercer study of workplace absences found that more than a third of all sick leave is taken on a Monday while the highest rate of office absence, by far, occurs in January.

During 2008, 13 of the 20 most popular days for sickness absence occurred in January; six of these were taken between January 2 and January 9.  On January 3 and January 4, nearly 5% of the total employee population was absent on sick leave.

Thirty-five percent of all sick leave is taken on a Monday, with attendance on the remaining working days becoming higher as the week progresses. Fridays are least likely to be taken as sick leave, and account for only 3% of sickness absence during the working week

What brings people to their sick beds? According to Mercer, musculo-skeletal problems are the most common cause, followed by viral infections and stress-related illnesses.

There was also a gender difference in the findings, Mercer said. Twenty-four percent more days are taken by female workers than their male counterparts.

Absence rates amongst women are more than twice as high as for men in instances of stress-related illness, exhaustion and depression. By contrast, muscle sprains, fractures and other physical injuries sustained by men account for at least double the absence rates amongst women.

 The most common recorded cause of absence is musculo-skeletal problems, in the form of strain or injury to bones, muscles and joints – accounting for nearly a quarter of all days lost (24%). Other common causes are stress-related illness, and cold, flu and other viral infections – both accounting for 17% of days’ absence. Stress generally leads to long-term absence but with a low incidence rate (4%).

The survey also found that 12% of working days lost are due to food poisoning and other gastric problems (27% of incidents), while cancer accounts for just 2% of absence.

Monday sickness and frequent short-term absences can be a symptom of low employee engagement and morale within certain teams or departments,” said Phiroze Bilimoria, a client manager at Mercer. “Once identified, companies can take measures to try and address this.”

Mercer’s research is based on an analysis of sickness management records for 11,000 employees across a range of private sector organizations.