Should We All Be Taking Duvet Days?

Should We All Be Taking Duvet Days?

We’ve all had those mornings. Blinking bleary-eyed at the rubble of your existence; thoughts of yet another Hadean tube journey weighing down on your soul like a thousand sardined commuters… It would be better to stay under the covers, wouldn’t it? If only there was some sort of way to shirk all responsibilities without ramming your life further into the ground…

Because pulling a sickie just isn’t worth it. Even the talented Mr Ripleys among us are spinning webs of lies they can’t keep up with and there’s only so many “must be a 24-hour thing”s you can catch before your boss starts to suspect you’re awful, or dying – or both! (They can fire you for the first one though.)

But despite the very real threat of being disciplined, British employees just won’t stop faking it. A 2015 YouGov survey found 19% of UK workers – around nine million people – had pulled a sickie in the previous 12 months. And when you consider staff absences cost the UK nearly £30 billion a year, it’s no wonder businesses are turning to Terminator-like measures to catch people out (voice recognition software can now tell who’s telling lies on the phone).

The solution, it seems, is to promote a culture of voluntary honesty. Too stressed to sleep? Take a duvet day! No need to give more notice. Just got dumped? Literally go back to bed. So hungover you can’t move without unbearable waves of nausea? Have a lie down and savour the shame, no questions asked.

Duvet days have been successfully adopted by countless companies in America and Canada, which typically offer two to four per year as part of competitive employee benefits packages. On the whole, they’ve been found to cut sickness and absence by around 40%.

Now, the trend is spreading to our shores – UK businesses are trading extra days off for more staff morale and improved output, with Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS) reportedly halving its number of absences since introducing the scheme.

There are rules, of course. Duvet days are formally stipulated in employment contracts and usually built in to annual holiday entitlement. Most companies only let so many staff take them at once – Halifax, for example, allows a maximum of 30 out of their 650-plus people on any one day.

As for whether we’ll all get them, don’t hold your breath. Although the very concept of ‘having a nice day in bed instead of going to work when you’re feeling a little bit rubbish’ is unequivocally straight from the brain of a grassroots manager who Cares Too Much – the Jeremy Corbyn of corporate HR – it appears to be a very clever, very British, PR scheme. Devised by August One Communications in 1997, who claimed to offer duvet days to its employees (and adopted by fellow PR agency Text 100 soon after), it picked up traction in the press and, needless to say, was mocked mercilessly.

Twenty years on and our nation’s stiff upper lip is as unflexible as ever. Despite proven success, employee-focused incentives are still a distant dream for the majority of British employees. Duvet days in particular have been dismissed as a ‘millennial work perk’; yet another example of the snowflake generation’s desire to be mollycoddled.

It’s unfortunate that millennials – found to have the lowest level of wellness Britain – are being chastised for looking out for their health. And it’s not just the 25-34s at risk of burn out and stress – the majority of Brits say they don’t have a good work-life balance.

With paid overtime a rarity and the average amount of overtime UK workers put in last year equating to around 68 days each, is allowing employees more flexibility with their holiday allowance really all that far-fetched? Until someone works it all out, we’re going back to bed.

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