British workers took the seventh lowest number of sick days in Europe last year, according to new research that identifies the countries most and least notorious for pulling a sickie.

Although construction workers take the highest proportion of sick days across sectors due to accidents at work, the research from workforce management solutions provider, Mitrefinch – an Advanced owned company – found that workers in the UK are in the top ten in Europe for taking the fewest sick days. UK workers took an average of 5.8 days, despite many continuing to work throughout lockdown.

Switzerland and Sweden shared the top spot when it came to high attendance, with their workers taking just 2.4 days sick leave on average over the course of a calendar year. Ukraine (3.7 days) and Malta (4.2 days) made up the rest of the top three.

While the stats for Swiss and Swedish workers are impressive, it’s important to note that these two countries are notoriously generous when it comes to annual leave entitlement. In particular, Sweden is known for having more holiday time than any other country in the world – 41 days of paid leave, to be precise! This makes the commitment of British construction workers, who face the risk of injury as well sickness due to the nature of their work, all the more impressive. 

However, recent figures suggest that more than two thirds of UK workers avoid taking sick days and still go into work despite feeling unwell – which is even more concerning given the threat of Covid-19. On top of this, construction is reported to be the third-most-stressed sector in the UK; concluding that construction workers must have better support in place to try and manage the pressures at work, but also so they must feel able to take time off when needed.  

Bulgarian employees were found most likely to call in sick, taking on average 22 days off per year according to the most recent figures available. Workers in Germany didn’t fare too much better taking 18.3 days, with those in the Czech Republic also taking off the equivalent of more than three working weeks with sickness (16.3 days).

The full results can be found below:

United Kingdom5.8
San Marino8.6
Czech Republic (Czechia)16.3

Commenting on the figures, Mark Dewell, Managing Director at Mitrefinch, said:

“Workplace absences cost the UK economy a whopping £18 billion a year through lost productivity, with this figure expected to creep up to £21 billion in 2022 – causing significant losses for the construction industry as a whole. On top of the dip in productivity, employees who are renowned for calling in sick can put extra strain on other staff members who have to pick up their workload as a result.

“But, that’s not to say that taking a sick day should be viewed as a weakness or a lack of commitment, and it’s clear that this mentality is unhelpful for the wellbeing of its workers. Taking time out of work to recover from injury or illness (be that physical or mental) is important for productivity and growth, and the fact that construction is one of the most stressful industries in the UK is an even greater reason for doing so.”

Lizzie Benton, culture consultant at Liberty Mind, adds:

“In Britain we still live by outdated legacy attitudes in the workplace. Fear and control is what many organisations are run by and for employees, asking for a day off sick can feel like admitting failure.

“It’s not just the act of taking a day off either, but the repercussions this may have when an employee returns to work. For example, if management treats them coldly, or over-question their day off to imply that they were faking it in some way.

“I think managers often behave this way because it is bred in the company culture, especially in male-dominated industries such as construction. Attitudes and behaviours start at the top, and if you have a boss who comes into work no matter how they’re feeling, it creates an unhealthy culture where people feel as though they can’t ever take a day off sick.”