Young British Workers Exploit Sick Leave, Outnumbering Migrant Staff Absences

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Young British workers are taking significantly more sick days compared to their foreign-born colleagues, according to Geoff Butcher, CEO of Blackadder Corporation, a care home provider in the Midlands. This trend, he asserts, is creating substantial issues within the industry.

Butcher, who manages six care homes employing 300 staff, observed a stark contrast between the sick leave patterns of British and overseas employees. “We see it by shift pattern,” he explained. “It’s not unusual for staff to drop out of shifts, particularly before or after weekends. Social media often reveals the true reason for their ‘sickness’ – weekends away or nights out.”

This pattern is particularly concerning against the backdrop of a record high of 2.8 million people unable to work due to long-term sickness since the Covid-19 pandemic. The political debate around this issue is heating up, with the Conservatives pledging to reduce benefits for long-term sickness as part of their election campaign.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) reported that the number of sick days taken by workers reached a decade high last year. Butcher noted a sharp increase in younger staff citing stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues as reasons for their absences, suggesting many are “gaming the system.”

In contrast, Butcher highlighted that foreign staff have not shown a similar increase in sick days. “There is a significant contrast. Some of our overseas colleagues are eager to work up to 60 hours a week,” he said. “It’s quite interesting that many of our overseas employees manage to work nearly twice as many hours as some of our own.”

Butcher attributed the rise in sick days to several factors, including GPs signing off patients without face-to-face consultations, the ability for workers to self-certify for up to a week when ill, and shifting attitudes towards work post-pandemic.

CIPD senior labour market economist Jon Boys noted a reversal in the demographics of sick leave since Covid-19. “Before the pandemic, older age groups had the highest sickness absence. Post-pandemic, it’s the younger age groups,” he explained. Boys suggested that initially, this shift was due to younger people contracting Covid more frequently, but subsequent research shows a significant rise in mental health issues leading to increased absences.

CIPD analysis of ONS figures revealed that the share of workers in health and social care who were off sick reached a 10-year high in the last quarter of the previous year. This surge in sick days poses acute challenges for employers like Butcher, who often receive late notifications from staff calling in sick.

“It never gets to the point of impacting safety, but it could do,” Butcher warned. “If you don’t have enough staff, the quality of care is imperilled. That is the ultimate problem here.”

As the debate over sick leave and its implications continues, employers are left to navigate the complexities of maintaining workforce stability and ensuring the quality of care in a challenging post-pandemic landscape.

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