In July of this year, The Guardian reported that the national average number of sick days for an individual has significantly fallen from 7.2 days in 1993 (when the data was first recorded) to 4.1 days in 2017. Some may consider this to be good news: less sick pay expenses, a healthier workforce, and more efficient teams across the UK. However, whilst this might be the case in some respects, it can also be seen from an opposing point of view: people are not taking care of themselves and placing enough emphasis on their own self-care.
The main reasons for sick days include cold and flu symptoms which made up a sizeable 26% of the survey with back pain following closely, especially within older age categories. However, amongst the ages of 25 to 34-year-olds, 9.6% of sick leave was due to mental health issues. Many may argue that this is the ‘snowflake generation’ at work but, given that a significant proportion of people might not feel comfortable ringing in sick with anxiety, it begs the question of just how low a representation this number actually is – especially when you consider that this number is up from 7.2% in 2009. The heavy implication here is that we are not looking after our emotional and mental wellbeing well enough.
In short, the workplace is a tougher place to survive than ever before: huge swathes of people can apply for any one job, deadlines and budgets are tighter meaning higher expectations placed on everyone from the top down, and social media, email etc. means we’re less connected from work now than we’ve ever been before – gone are the days of finishing at 5pm, being home by 6pm, and not thinking about the office until 9am the next day. It’s no wonder we’re all more stressed than ever! Ruby Wax, now a vocal advocate for those with depression, discusses how we, as a species, simply have not evolved to cope with modern life and discusses how exercising self-care can ensure that we do better at preserving our energy, happiness and ability to achieve in life – at work and otherwise.
The truth is this: nobody is ever going to tell you to work less and so you need to implement your own routine of self-care to ensure your own wellbeing. The benefits for this are numerous and include everything from being a nicer person to be around, right up to performing better at work. If you are using mindfulness or exercise (as two examples) to manage your stress levels (let’s remember that you do not need to have clinical depression to require self-care) then you will make clearer, better decisions; you will be in a better place to empathise with co-workers and employees; and you will feel a lot more in control of your work load and your ability to manage it effectively.
The number of sick days may be decreasing overall, but there is an increase in the number of mental health days being taken. Self-care is an excellent way to be kinder to yourself and better at your job so make sure that you take the time you need to feel happier, lighter and less bogged-down by the stresses of modern life and work; you will be a better boss or employee for it.