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Christmas ‘heightens pressure of juggling work and life commitments’

Employees take sick days to cope with family demands over the festive period

The pressures of juggling family, health and care demands alongside work commitments are a cause of major stress, anxiety and unplanned absences from work, research suggests.

The survey from Benenden Health found that although a quarter of employees (25%) said unapproved absences from work were down to overindulgence and the aftermath of the Christmas party, sick days were more widely taken to manage childcare, personal health and family commitments over the yuletide period.

According to the poll of 1,000 employees and 1,000 UK SMEs, one in eight UK workers (13%) said they have taken unapproved leave at Christmas to manage personal health and family care commitments. One in five lied to their employer about the reason for doing so.

The data revealed that the youngest generations were most likely to take unapproved leave at Christmas, with a third of Generation Z workers and a quarter of millennials revealing they have done so in the past compared to just 2% of baby boomers.  

One in five workers who have taken unauthorised leave did so as the only way to secure a GP appointment, 18% took days to look after an elderly parent and 16% resorted to sick days to look after their children during school closures.

More than one in seven (15%) of those absent took time off specifically to manage mental health and anxiety issues heightened by the pressures of Christmas, with millennials suffering the most of all generations (19%).

The survey also found just 44% of workers have access to support and flexible working over Christmas to help them cope with the heightened demands of family, health and care commitments.

More than a quarter (28%) of employees said their most desired workplace benefit is flexible working, but only 38% of SMEs offer this.

Helen Smith, chief commercial officer at Benenden Health, said Christmas can be a really stressful time at work, especially when employees have a significant amount on their plate both inside and outside the workplace.

“By listening to workers and catering for their unique needs – in this instance, offering flexible working over the festive period, especially for younger employees, or having a suitable healthcare policy in place to allow for easy access to medical appointments and GPs for all the family – can minimise stress, absenteeism and ultimately increase the productivity of a workforce and overall performance of a business,” she added.