People & Human Resources

How to prepare your business for “sickies” this Australia Day

Dominic Powell /

“Chucking a sickie” might be accepted Australian slang, but with Australia Day fast approaching experts warn business owners to prepare now, before sickies are unexpectedly chucked at them.

Australia Day falls on a Thursday this year, and many workers may be tempted take the Friday off to nurse their heads and lock in a four-day weekend.

Last year a similar situation occurred, with the national public holiday falling on a Tuesday, leading to workers taking the preceding Monday off.

Read more: Why the race that stops a nation is vital for staff morale

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry warned last year the number of opportunistic workers taking sick days could be as high as 180,000, costing employers around $62 million.

In 2017, NSW Business Chamber chief executive Stephen Cartwright has warned workers that employers are unlikely to be fooled.

“The message to anyone who takes a “sickie” on the Friday after Australia Day is that it is not going to go unnoticed by your employer or your colleagues and it is likely to damage your professional reputation,” Cartwright said in a statement.

“The impact of staff taking a “mass sick day” on a business is significant – not only in financial costs but also on lost productivity. Some small businesses may not even be able to open their doors.”

Being flexible and frank

Thankfully, SME owners should be able to avoid shutting down completely on January 27th due to “unwell” workers – provided they take action now.

Direct at HRAnywhere Martin Nally told SmartCompany employers should always anticipate situations like these and act accordingly.

“The best employers plan, plan, plan for these events to make sure it’s not a surprise,” Nally says.

Though Australia Day is just over a week away, Nally says it’s not too late to business owners to adopt a flexible approach and have a frank discussion with employees.

“Don’t bemoan the fact you could be down workers on Friday. Be open and flexible with your employees about the situation,” he says.

“Offer them a different day off instead, say the Tuesday or the Wednesday, and ensure your workers know you recognise they might want to take the day off.”

Nally believes building a relationship of trust with employees is critical, as it can lead to more job loyalty and better experiences when future situations arise.

Have a solid leave policy 

Founder of WattsNext HR Sue-Ellen Watts agrees offering workers a different day off is a viable option for employers, but suggests offering a day further on in the year.

“We have the same situation with Anzac Day this year, it falls on a Tuesday. You could tell your workers if they didn’t take next Friday off, they can have the Monday before Anzac Day instead,” Watts told SmartCompany.

Watts also believes a frank discussion with staff is the best way to approach Australia Day but notes it “ideally” should have happened weeks ago.

Adopting a “first in best dressed” approach for annual leave requests is the best way for employers to deal with post-Australia Day sickies, says Watts.

“Tell employees they will need to put in an annual leave request if they are hoping to take the Friday off. For those who don’t submit one, make sure you let them know they’re expected into work,” she says.

“And for those who come in, do something exciting like a barbeque lunch or a dress-up day.”

Watts recommends companies to have solid sick leave policies to ensure opportunistic workers don’t extort the system.

“Implement a policy where workers must provide a doctor’s certificate if the sick period is more than two days, or if it falls on either side of a weekend,” she says.

“This will reduce the likelihood of workers chucking unnecessary sickies.”

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Dominic Powell

Dominic Powell is a journalist at SmartCompany and a tech and music geek. When he’s not writing, you can find him reading or browsing record shops.

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  • Jan Deane

    “Offer them a different day off instead, say the Tuesday or the Wednesday, and ensure your workers know you recognise they might want to take the day off.”

    I am assuming this would be an annual leave day you are supposed to be offering, not just a free day off? The article isn’t very clear on this.