While the term malingerer applies historically to the armed forces where it described those who shirked their military duties by feigning illness, the term is also used in the workplace.
Workforce malingerers are those who fake or exaggerate mental or physical health problems to justify sickness absence. It is believed that 15% of sickness absence is of the malingering variety (CBI, 2011)
What can be done to manage this kind of sickness absence?
The key thing is to have a robust, written sickness absence policy in place which sets out clear procedures and guidance for both managers and employees themselves.
One thing to bear in mind is that malingerers might be feigning illness but it might be masking other workplace issues such as bullying behaviours by colleagues. This needs to be uncovered and should perhaps be of greater concern to the employer.
Accurate reporting on absence is critical. Aspects such as Bradford Scores or triggers for particular sickness levels and patterns rely on reliable data. Where absence data lacks accuracy, it might be worth considering a first day absence reporting scheme. As its name suggests, employees report their absence to a nurse-led telephone service on the first day they are away and subsequently until they return to work. Details and predicted length of absence are then available to management, and services are signposted to employees to help them return to work as quickly as possible.
Injecting strict discipline into the process can deliver impressive results. The key to managing malingerers is to have an approach that is clear and understood by all. Any interventions must fit culturally and it is wise to pilot them first; that way you can quietly ditch them if they fail to deliver on their promises.
Dr. Bridget Juniper is an employee well-being consultant at Lockton Employee Benefits. She is also head of Work and Well-Being Ltd which specializes in the measurement of employee well-being. www.workandwellbeing.com