Workers taking more sick days is a headache for some bosses

Bosses across the U.S. have a lot on their plates as they navigate their roles. Among the issues facing some: People are using sick days more often.

The finding is highlighted in an Oct. 17 article in the The Wall Street Journal, which cites data from payroll and benefits software company Gusto. 

Thirty percent of white-collar workers with access to paid leave have taken sick time so far in 2023, up from 21% in 2019, according to the Gusto analysis of U.S. payroll data from 300,000 small and midsize businesses. Among age groups, workers ages 25 to 34 are taking sick days most often (32.3% so far in 2023 versus 29.5% last year and 23.9% in 2021).

Managers and human resources executives told The Wall Street Journal there are various contributing factors, including COVID-19 and a rise in illnesses such as respiratory syncytial virus. They also cited workers using up sick time for mental health reasons, as well as younger workers taking full advantage of their benefits when they are under the weather. 

An additional note: The pandemic spurred some states to implement paid leave laws. That is according to an article published in September 2022 from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The article spotlighted four studies pointing to the benefits of paid sick leave, including a study in Preventive Medicine showing workers with paid sick leave seek preventive care more often.

But some employers view workers using more sick days than they used to as a problem.

"The accounting team is not happy with me providing this time off because it's a liability for the company," Crystal Williams, chief human resources officer at global business payments company Fleetcor, told The Wall Street Journal of the additional cost of sometimes having to shore up staffing due to absences. 

Detroit carmaker Stellantis, amid contract talks with the United Auto Workers, has also cited costs, estimating the company lost 10.9% of hourly worker time last year due to unplanned absences, according to the newspaper.

Some companies, meanwhile, point to sick days as an instrument of work-life balance beyond personal illness, noting that employees can use them to take care of loved ones or deal with school closures, Rich Fuerstenberg, senior partner in the health and benefits practice at consulting firm Mercer, told the newspaper. 

Read the full report in the Journal here.


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