Workers rarely extend the weekend by taking sick leave

November 12, 2001

The widespread belief that workers extend their weekends by taking sick leave on Fridays and Mondays is misplaced, say researchers in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Strategies to reduce Monday and Friday sick leave are probably a waste of time, they conclude.

The researchers looked at the absentee records of 27,541 full time staff, working in five different Finnish towns between 1993 and 1997. The employees included both manual and clerical workers across all grades. The study covered a period of deep recession followed by a strong economic boom.

Just under 3.5 per cent of men and 5 per cent of women were on sick leave during any one week, with older people tending to take more time off. Absentee rates were also higher after the recession than during it.

The rates of sick leave were lowest on Mondays for both men and women, increasing towards Wednesday and remaining at the same level for the rest of the week. This same pattern was found across all five towns, ages, and income groups.

The researchers found that one day sick leave was over 40 per cent more common on Mondays, and almost 90 per cent higher on Fridays, and this was again true of all age and income groups. Monday absences were more common among men and younger employees, possibly as a result of weekend drinking, say the researchers, while Friday absences were more common among low earners.

But, the researchers say, around 50 per cent of illness resulting in a no-show at work on a Monday or Friday may have begun or ended during the weekend. And they point out that the overall contribution of extended weekend absence accounted for less than 1 per cent of all days lost to sickness.

The authors conclude that "Although we found some evidence for the extended weekend absence-that is, absences which are probably not related to sickness, the proportion of days lost was marginal." They add that sickness absenteeism will probably continue to be "a significant problem in industrialised countries in the foreseeable future."
[The role of extended weekends in sickness absenteeism 2001; 58: 818-22]

BMJ Specialty Journals

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