Duvet Day….zzzzz! Benefit or Ruse?

Does a day in bed increase employee engagement?
There are a number of week days a year when truthfully, I don’t feel like getting my not so little bottom out of my bed. It’s not that I’ve had a wild party the night before, but it might be cold, raining, snowing or the day just looks as though it might be better viewed from a horizontal position. Regrettably, I can only put the alarm on snooze for 15 minutes max and I just have to get up and get on with it. I have clients, candidates and calls and I’m not sure how many of them would react if I just said “ Soooo sorry not in the mood today. No reason – I’ll get back to you tomorrow” I suspect I would go out of business quicker than you could say bankrupt! Or would I?

Duvet Day
Yet, we have a phenomenon which seems to be around in some organisations called a Duvet Day. www.duvetday.org define this practise as follows ” a term that has become synonymous with the act of taking a day off work or school when you ‘just don’t feel up to it’. You are not ill, you don’t want to lie to the boss; you just need a day in bed!! “ one of the upsides is seemingly reducing carbon emissions by cutting back on fossil fuels used up during a commute! Good wheeze!

How did this creep into organisational culture? It seems that it originated with US corporations, seeking to become enlightened employers and to foster employee loyalty. Early adopters in the UK include PR company Text100, in 1995. An allocation of several duvet days per employee is now becoming more widespread, reports suggest, as is the wider concept of helping employees maintain work/life balance.

Unscheduled absences
Unscheduled staff absence due to illness or other reasons can be very costly for employers, official statistics and survey data reveal. In the UK it was reported by the Health and Safety Commission that 36 million days of work were lost due to sickness absence in 2006 and 2007, and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) estimated the annual cost of sickness absence to UK employers to be £659 per employee. Previous studies found that employers significantly underestimate the costs to their organizations of unplanned absenteeism.

In the United States, research in 2007 by Mercer National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, found that the equivalent of around 9% of total salary costs were incurred due to unplanned absence although that does vary considerably between different types of organizations and is higher in the public sector. The CCH Inc. 2000 Unscheduled Absence Survey indicated that sickness absence accounts for only around 40% of all unscheduled absenteeism, with family factors also being significant. In the UK, a study by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health puts the total cost to UK employers of absence due to stress and mental health problems at £8.4 billion. Overall patterns of sickness absence are quite similar between different countries, being higher among women, than men and among older, rather than younger employees. .

Workplace informality
At the same time we have seen the general growth of US-inspired workplace informality; dress down Fridays ( where men are excused from ties and suits and women can wear jeans). In some organisations these are morphing into dress down every day. The dress codes of work places is becoming more casual, as employers recognise the connection between employees feeling comfortable while at work and the quality of their results.

Life style management services
Another growth area is so-called homing, where because of longer working hours and commutes, the office is made more like home with personal PA and concierge services (dry cleaning, car washing, laundry, groceries delivered to desks and general errand running) taking on the functions that many people need, but don’t have time to do themselves, so are happy to outsource.

Workplace flexibility: perk or placebo
So is this drive to give us more flexibility a superficial ruse to lull us into believing that things are better than they are and we don’t mind working all those long hours or as hard as we do? Is it all a con? Mike Emmott, employee-relations adviser at the CIPD, in a report, Flexible working: good business; How small firms are doing it, demonstrates the value – the economic benefits as well as less tangible measures – of flexible working, noting the common elements. “The managers were all “people” people; they were good at communication and fostered a caring ethos in their businesses. This meant they had low absenteeism, very high retention of expertise and experience, and workers who looked after each other.”

Emmott was particularly struck by how policies promoting work-life balance were “so intimately linked with business ideas about profitability. It’s about resolving business issues, not just about being lovey-dovey”.

I don’t know about you – but I’m going to take a nap!

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5 responses to “Duvet Day….zzzzz! Benefit or Ruse?

  1. D – Thanks for giving a new term for a day that I, like you, won’t take. The CEO in me would demand the employee in me shed the duvet. It’s just not an option. The question does not come up. Furthermore, I look forward to my days. Why? I love what I do. I find purpose and value in it. It allows me to express the gifts I’ve been given.
    As for work-life fit. Why not let parents or those caring for elders take the hours or days they need. Period.
    Duvet Day strikes me is the same way as being suspended for skipping school strikes me. WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? Then again, are you thinking?
    Perhaps employers should focus on meaning at work not duvets at home.

    • Thanks Anne for your comment. I can’t claim to have originated the term – think it comes from the US.Yes it would be good if we all loved what we did all the time – but for some, or even many, that’s not the case and unscheduled absence accounts for a high percentage of lost working days. There does seem to be some sort of correlation between an individual’s perception of work/ life balance and engagement. Perhaps both ruse and benefit!

  2. Good luck w/ career advancement in taking those “Duvet Days”.
    It ain’t gonna happen. Trust me.

  3. Another great post, Dorothy. It seems to me that those folks who are not engaged in their work will find a way to take time off regardless of whether it is sanctioned or not. Adding “duvet days” to an already expanding number of ways to cajole people into coming to work does little to motivate them or win their loyalty.

    To me, these extra “perqs” that some organizations offer to keep employees sweet do nothing to address the core issues associated with running a functional business where people feel valued. It’s kind of like putting icing on a crumbling cake to keep it from falling apart.

    • Thanks Gwyn. I have been surprised by the number of Americans who haven’t heard of this term either. Unscheduled absences account for the bulk of work absenteeism and the general consensus was consistent with yours, that it is a band aid for underlying motivational issues not dealt with by organisations. However research does seem to show that giving this flexibility does help to reduce absenteeism and increases staff retention -ruse or not! .

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