Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Karen Bartlett Column

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Karen Bartlett Column

Article excerpt

Byline: By Karen Bartlett

Now that the holidays are over it must be nearly time for the great British sickie.

There is nothing like looking ahead to all those long bleak bank-holiday-free days between now and Christmas to bring about a last-minute burst of "summer cold".

Throwing a sickie is quite an art ( and should never be confused with the skills needed to pull off the kind of dramatic last-minute lie, "She was my grandmother's best friend, it was totally unexpected," needed to get you out of the office for another job interview.

A true sickie involves mind over matter. Top tips include: Suck a Strepsil and imagine that you really do feel bad. Sound weak and croaky, even if you're only pretending to be off work with a sore toe. Be ready to mute the volume on Cash in the Attic as soon as the phone rings and don't wait until you've discovered it's the boss.

Caught between handling Britain's growing problem of absenteeism by either beating workers with a big stick and demanding they get back to work, or alternatively luring them back with promises of free cars and foreign travel, employers are now increasingly turning to outside companies for help.

Stress at work apparently accounts for more and more time off. But it's stressful for everyone, including the person left handling the extra work load, and the hapless middle-manager who has been designated to deal with the serial sickness offender.

Now private companies have stepped in to offer sickness management services. From the first day off work the employee will be taken out of the hands of their company and dealt with by private medical staff.

One company, already employed by various call centres (which may look sophisticated but usually have all the good employment practices of a Victorian workhouse) has now been taken on by York City Council. York has a particular problem with staff being absent from work in its adult services department, including social services, at more than three times the rate of other departments in the council and twice the rate for comparable council departments elsewhere.

But rather than tackle what might be a root cause, it's decided instead to pay private nurses to interrogate employees over the phone. …

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