One in seven workers for smaller companies fake an illness to take three days off each year.

The staggering cost of small business employees bunking off: a whopping £900 million, has been revealed by a report from breatheHR, provider of HR software for SMEs.

The report found one in seven employees admitted to feigning illness and those that do appear to be serial offenders – pulling a sickie on average three times a year!

At the end of 2016, SMEs employed 15.7 million people and accounted for 99% of all private sector businesses. This economic force is only growing in prevalence and numbers; Britain needs the SME economy to be firing on all cylinders.

Jonathan Richards, CEO, at breatheHR comments: “We’re facing a costly absence epidemic. At a time when the government is attempting to decipher the ‘productivity puzzle’, over two million people are calling in sick when they are in fact not. Imagine if that number was halved, what uptick in economic performance would that deliver to the UK economy and SMEs?”

After researching over 1,500 British SME workers and business owners (5-249 employees) via Opinium, breatheHR found nearly half (42%) of employees who are pulling sickies do so due to needing a rest. However, just under half (46%) of workers are using up their full holiday allowance.

Richards adds: “Absence has a big impact on small companies, but it’s an area that is often overlooked or poorly managed. With the right support tools in place, SMEs can reduce business admin and free up more time to create a culture where sickies simply don’t occur. This report shines a light on how absence impacts employees, employers and the wider business ecosystem.”

Due to the piling pressure on business owners, half (51%) of them confessed to contacting an employee while they were on sick leave – this number jumps to 72% for younger business owners (18-34-year-olds) showing clear generational differences. Additionally, three-quarters (71 per cent) of business owners would expect employees to work if they had a common cold. Why? Because absenteeism impacts the bottom line – 85 per cent of business owners say it has an economic effect.

Other key findings include:

20 per cetn of 18-34-year-olds respond to work emails when off sick due to guilt – more than any other age range.

One in five (19 per cent) pulled a sickie to avoid a situation at work, such as a stressful meeting – with more men than women likely to revert to a sickie (22 per cent vs 15 per cent).

One in three managers have contacted staff while on holiday (36 per cent per cent).

Richards concludes: “The results are striking for how contradictory we are as people: employees aren’t taking their full holiday allowance but then phone in sick in order to have a ‘rest day’, and then check emails avidly. Unintentionally managers at small businesses are creating a culture where it is expected that employees are always available. So, what does this all mean for productivity?

“Business owners need to consider how their behaviour impacts others. Just because you’re happy to be contacted on holiday, doesn’t mean that should become the established norm. The impact is snowballing – again leading to absence in the form of preventable sickness – which costs business in terms of needing to invest both in cover and productivity.”

See also, National sickie day? It’s all a myth