Sick days cost $14.9b a year

Local | Sophie Hui and Jane Cheung 31 Dec 2019

Sophie Hui and Jane Cheung

Employees take an average of five days sick leave a year despite not actually being sick, causing HK$14.9 billion in economic losses, according to a Lingnan University study.

Lingnan researchers interviewed 2,032 employees aged between 18 and 70 in eight main industries - construction, education, human health and social work services, finance and insurance, public administration, accommodation and food services, transportation, import/export trade, and wholesale/retail trade from August 2017 to March this year.

The study found that employees took an average of 8.3 days leave a year, of which 3.2 days were sick leave, and the rest were due to stress, family issues or feigned sickness.

Those in the real estate sector skipped work for four days on average - about 37 hours each month, making it the highest absentee rate among the eight industries.

This was significantly higher than the 8.91 hours for logistics and 8.35 hours a month in construction sector.

Siu Oi-ling, dean of the university's faculty of social science and chair professor of applied psychology, said Hongkongers are famous workaholics.

"Even when traffic was disrupted, they insisted on going to work by walking one to two hours," she said.

Siu said the reason behind high absenteeism in the property industry to their income being tied to commissions.

"Property agents have flexible working hours. They have sufficient income even if they only have one deal a month," she said.

However, research found that "presenteeism", in which employees are not fully functioning in the workplace because of illness, injury or other conditions, was common among construction, hospitality and catering service workers.

Siu said employees in these sectors are usually paid by daily rates and go into work despite not wanting to because they need the income, she said.

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