No Sickie Zone: Why Contractors Don’t Take Sick Days

Why don’t freelancers and contractors take sick days? Is it because they lose out on their day rate? Is it because they are super-human workers?

The latest data from Contracting Scout’s Contractor Confidence survey shows that contractors are a committed part of the UK’s workforce, with the majority not having had a sick day in the past two years. Some 53 percent of respondents haven’t called in sick in the last two years, with 31 percent of these having never called in sick.

Research findings

  • Over a third of contractors would have to be at death’s door before they called in sick to work.
  • Sixty percent have been out of work for more than a month at a time they wanted to be working.
  • Three-quarters (75 percent) would recommend contracting life to others.

While 13 percent of contractors stop working when ill, 52 percent continue working if they’re mildly unwell, and 35 percent soldier on unless they’re at death’s door.

Most contractors seem happy with their working life, with three-quarters (75 percent) saying they’d recommend becoming a contractor to others. The majority (60 percent) also plan to continue contracting for at least the next two years, if not indefinitely, with 17 percent wanting to stop in the next two years and 22 percent undecided.

Of the 25 percent who said they wouldn’t recommend contracting, the majority (62 percent) cited worry about where the next contract would come from. The study suggests this is a potential risk for most contractors, with 60 percent saying they had been out of work for more than a month when they wanted to be working.

However, most contractors have prepared themselves well for gaps in employment. Some 52 percent have three or more months’ earnings set aside, while 72 percent plan to increase the amount they have saved.

The experts weigh in

Aki Kakko, CEO of Candarine:

Contractors overall often behave very similarly to entrepreneurs. They feel that it is their responsibility to get the work done and achieve the results regardless of their current condition while full-time employees often feel that it is their right to have sick leave and others in the team will pull the weight during that time. The perception of sick leave is often completely different compared to permanent employees. As a downside, this can lead to unwanted long-term consequences such as burnout and other health issues.

Dominic McNamara, CEO of Cruit:

‘Contractors are certainly not super-humans but unlike the gainfully employed they appreciate where each day’s pay comes from. While those employed often feel hard done by and bemoan their situation, contractors (due to their higher earning potential) have a value attached to each portion of the day, week, month and year. So, sickness and time-off in general is considered in a different light:
Contractors know that taking a holiday isn’t just a flight/hotel/spending-money cost but a non-earning period too whereas permanent employees feel they’ve ‘earned’ their time off and will avoid working during those two weeks in the sun however possible!
Having managed teams across Europe I was always amused at some employee-friendly nations where permanent staff felt compelled to ‘take their contracted sick-leave’ as if it were additional holiday days! This concept is totally alien for the contracting workforce! This debate defines well the “Opportunity : Cost” scenario – it it worth a day in bed to lose £500?
It would be telling to analyse the differences in opinion on this debate where earning potential is similar for Contractors and Employees. For sure, high rate contractors value their time off, but don’t take duvet days for fun!’

Andy Bellass, co-founder of hibob:

‘I think one of the things to consider here is the true definition of what a ‘sick’ day actually is, which we know can actually have many meanings. ‘Interview’ day, ‘Hangover’ day, ‘I’ve simply had enough’ day. But for a contractor it’s much clearer. The first definition is quite clearly ‘Unpaid’ day and you can imagine that money has a brilliant placebo effect on constitution. I’d love to see statistics that correlate ‘Fever’ to ‘Picking up the phone’ ratings. e.g. “The Average Full Time Employee is more likely to pick up the phone 2.3 Degrees lower than a contractor.” Then we’ve got ourselves some stats. There must be an app for that.
‘I think the second thing to consider is from the full-time employee side. There is an argument to say that FT employees work harder, work longer hours, and are more emotionally committed to the business they are part of. As such, ‘sick’ days can often blur into ‘duvet/recovery’ days, and when you think that contractors are less likely to work 100% of their available time, this makes complete sense. Again, another interesting stat would be to compare the yearly hours worked by a full-time employee vs a Contractor. They may have fewer sick days, but do they actually work more!!’

Will Ryles, Head of Recruitment at Contracting Scout:

‘Contractors are a very reliable part of the workforce, with the majority carrying on with projects unless they’re very sick. There is of course a financial incentive for them to do so as they do not receive sick pay, but this also shows that if you want something done on time, contractors can be an excellent option.’

Liz Sebag-Montefiore, Co-Founder & Career Coach at 10Eighty

‘I believe contractors rarely take sick days based on two reasons – firstly due to the obvious reason that they only get paid when they work; but more importantly, they enjoy the work they’re doing and have chosen to take the work on. People are far more likely to take sick days when they’re not engaged at work, and as freelancers and contractors can be picky as to what work they take on, are bound to want to complete projects even if they’re not well so they get paid and for the satisfaction of seeing what they’ve achieved that day. After all, they can rest and recuperate over the weekend!’

By Jörgen Sundberg

Founder of Undercover Recruiter & CEO of Link Humans, home of The Employer Brand Index.