Work absenteeism costs SA economy R16bn a year

The South African economy loses between R12- to R16-billion a year as a result of absent workers, according to Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA) and Statistics South Africa.

OCSA estimates that there is an average of 15% of staff absent on any given day and that only one in three people who do not go to work are actually physically ill. According to the organisation more than 40% of sick notes are issued without a diagnosis.

Research done by the organisation found that sleep disorders are one of the top causes of diminished productivity and “modern lifestyle issues which include too much light from electronic devices before bedtime” are the culprits.

“While you might feel the need to stay connected with work at all times and are reading emails in bed just before you go to sleep, it is actually making you less effective and creates a negative cycle,” says office design company Paragon Interiors’ Lucy Le Roux.  

‘Deeper problem’
“What is concerning in the OCSA data is the high percentage of employees who appear to be falsifying illness; this points to a deeper problem of being unhappy at work or just not coping,” she says. 

However, an online survey conducted in June and July this year among 1 900 working men and women around the country found that eight in 10 of the participants would go to work “even though they’re as sick as a dog”. 

According to the survey conducted by pharmaceutical company Pharma Dynamics, almost half of the participants said “they just can’t afford to take a day off work due to mounting workloads, 33% argued that they’re just too essential to the business operation, and 12% go into work sick hoping they’ll be sent home by the boss”. But the company warns that this behaviour is counter-productive.  

Spokesperson Mariska van Aswegen says that for some employees, being in the office physically means job security, but warns that people who go to work when they are sick “leave behind a trail of germs on shared surfaces like stair rails and door handles, putting others’ health in jeopardy”.

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Ina Skosana
Ina Skosana was a health reporter at Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian’s centre for health journalism, from 2013 to 2017.
Bhekisisa team
Bhekisisa Team
Health features and news from across Africa by Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian's health journalism centre.

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