Employees use up, on average, only about four days of their outpatient-sick-leave entitlement each year, a new survey has found.
This is less than a third of the average 14 days of medical leave which most people are given by their employers.
And, when asked if they have called in sick when they were not actually ill, more than eight out of 10 respondents claimed they have never lied to their doctors or bosses to get a day off.
These were the findings from a poll of 1,000 employees from across different sectors that was commissioned by The Sunday Times and conducted online by career portal STJobs over the last three weeks.
Human-resource (HR) experts and industry watchers generally agree with the results, saying the low rate of people calling in sick with medical certificates (MCs) could be due to flexible work arrangements, which are more common these days.
Civil servants, for instance, can call in sick without an MC for two days a year. The “progressive human-resource practice” was implemented in April by the Public Service Division after consulting the various ministries.
More companies offering paternity and eldercare leave in recent years – in addition to existing maternity and extended-childcare leave entitlements, for instance – have also helped keep the “MC rate” low.
There were, however, some sceptics, like HR consultant Martin Gabriel of HRMatters21, who believes the national average may be higher – about six days in a year.
“But I suppose people might take fewer days of leave because they’re concerned about being branded MC King or Queen, and being seen as lazy,” he said.
Aside from actual health reasons, he said the number of days an employee calls in sick is highly correlated to his total leave entitlement.
“That is why I’ve always warned companies that if their leave allowance is too low, the number of MCs will go up,” he said. “Lower leave entitlement may also see higher abuse of medical leave.”
About 16 per cent of the employees polled admitted that they have called in sick this year, even though they were fit to work. This was almost double the 9 per cent who admitted doing the same in a poll of 1,000 people in October by travel website Skyscanner.
Still, experts, like Mr David Ang, said the figure was lower than expected. The associate director of HR consultancy Remuneration Data Specialists said a more indicative figure would be about one in four, or 25 per cent.
“We know of employees who resort to taking MCs if they are late, or who just want to get away from work,” he said.
A further breakdown showed almost four in 10 of the respondents who had called in sick when they were fit were either in banking or education.
Mr Josh Goh, assistant director of corporate services at human-resources firm The GMP Group, said more educators called in sick even though they were fit to work because their work schedules are relatively inflexible.
“For teachers, there is almost no way to take one day off during term time – they have to wait until the term break,” he said.
“On the other hand, those in the banking industry might be feeling burnt out and tired, and decided that they needed a day off.”