Work and Wellbeing 14 December 2018

Protecting your biggest asset: The business case for duvet days

duvet days
Duvet days allow your staff to be better rested, happier and more honest and productive

Writing for Business Advice, Matthew Reed, founder and managing director of SME wellbeing provider Equipsme, makes the business case for more duvet days – an effective way to ensure you and your staff remain happy and healthy.

Sickies are becoming a thing of the past. Malingering staff who feign illness to avoid work are a dying breed. Britain is now “a nation of mucus troopers” that baulks at taking a day off when they need one, according to TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady.

She has a point. Back in 1993, the average British worker took 7.2 sick days [ONS]. Since then, that number has steadily fallen. In 2016, we called in sick 4.3 times each, on average. The total number of sick days sank 23% to 137.5 million a year between 1993 and 2016. But this doesn’t mean we’re healthier or more productive.

Quite the contrary: since 1960, we’ve gone from being Europe’s most productive nation to one of its least. The average UK adult has two to four common colds a year and they are the most cited reason for absences. Yet the ONS says colds only account for one in four of the sick days each of us took each in 2016. This suggests more of us are turning up to work ill.

This dents productivity. Introducing duvet days can help. The US concept of allowing staff to take unscheduled days off for an unspecified reason (or ‘hangover days’ as some call them on this side of the pond) can help drive productivity, make you more attractive as an employer and foster a working culture of greater honesty and transparency. Here’s how…

Switch off an “always on” work culture

The decline of the sick day mirrors the rise of the ‘always on’ work culture. With our inboxes never further than a swipe of a phone screen away, two-fifths of British workers say they check their email at least five times a day outside working hours. A third say they cannot mentally switch off at home after work [CIPD].

Tired staff are likely to be less productive, clearly. And tiredness is a product of our ‘always on’ culture. Indeed, it’s the top reason UK workers would consider taking a duvet day, according to a recent poll by Time 4 Sleep. Duvet days help take the guilt out of switching off, allowing workers to return to work well-rested, ready for the challenges of the day.

Watch highlights from our wellbeing roundtable to find out how entrepreneurs are taking care of their health

Why it’s a “duvet” day, not “hangover” day

Of course, they’re also great for helping you sleep off the excesses of the night before. Say you’re taking your 10-strong team out for a Christmas celebration or to a business awards evening in which your company is up for a gong. The festivities are bound to involve a drink or two, so you’re tempted to call the following day of work off.

Whatever you do, don’t call it a ‘hangover day’. You could be accused of encouraging over drinking (a charge no one wants in this age of temperance) and there’s a risk of alienating staff who for whatever reason do not drink. But can you call it a duvet day?

Duvet days: employers’ key considerations

No. The term is relatively new and has no legal definition, but a duvet day is widely understood to be an unscheduled day off taken for an unspecified reason. If you’re telling staff they must take the day off after the event, it’s scheduled. What’s more, you’ve specified the reason (the night before, not the amount of alcohol consumed).

In short, it’s the employee’s choice to use a duvet day, not yours. This need to be formalised in their contract of work. Most of the growing number of UK firms who provide duvet days allow three or four a year and they count as annual leave. Many contractually limit the number of staff who can take duvet days on the same day to avoid staff shortages.

Duvet days benefit employees and employers

Let’s say, heaven forbid, an employee is suffering from a rare hangover. For said employee, a duvet day is a far more attractive prospect than either sweating it out at their desk or pulling an old-fashioned sickie. And there’s no risk of coming unstuck by a rogue Facebook post detailing the previous night’s exploits, as there would if they’d feigned illness.

The CIPD estimates that 140,000 people go to work each day with a hangover, costing employers £6.4bn a year in lost productivity. Plus, the option of a duvet day lessens the likelihood of staff, who’d otherwise pull a sickie when hungover, from taking an extra day off to make their phantom ailment seem more believable.

In this way, duvet days foster a working environment that’s more open and transparent. They also allow staff greater privacy when dealing with personal issues. Let’s say an employee is going through a break up and wants to do nothing but sit on the sofa and hide from the world. A duvet day allows this; no need to explain.

So duvet days benefit employees and employers. For employees, they take the guilt out of taking time off to recharge batteries, sleep off the night before or attend to anything else life throws at them. Employers benefit because their staff will be better rested, happier and more honest and productive. Your business will also be a more attractive place to work.

People are the biggest asset for any business. Duvet days ensure they’re also the most valuable.

Matthew Reed is founder and managing director of SME wellbeing provider Equipsme

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