Workers pulling sickies are costing the economy millions of dollars but a business boss says the answer could be as simple as letting staff start late if they're nursing a Christmas party hangover.

A Wellness in the Workplace survey show sickies taken by people who aren't really ill are estimated to account for 303,000 lost days of work each year, at a cost of $283 million.

Some employers say it's a significant cause of workplace absenteeism, and one in five say staff treat sick leave as an occasional perk, the survey found.

The country's largest health insurer, Southern Cross, which did the survey, said while it was impossible to gauge the exact level of fake sickness businesses needed to look at workplace culture and how often sickies were happening.


The Wellness in the Workplace survey, which also involved BusinessNZ and Gallagher Bassett, found workers aged 20 to 40 were the most likely to take sick days for other activities. Those taking sickies were also more likely to be employed by large organisations - companies with fewer than five staff reported almost no workers throwing sickies.

"It's clear that there is a perception among a number of employers that some days of paid sickness are seen as an entitlement by their staff, regardless of whether they are actually sick - in essence an addition to annual leave," said Business NZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly.

He said it was important for employers to look for ways to change the sickie culture.

This included giving workers later starting times if they'd been at a work party the night before, or allowing flexibility when it came to urgent family issues needing attention during work hours.

"Surely it's better if employees start an hour late than a day late."

Industrial Relations Centre director Stephen Blumenfeld said there was a lack of data on the most common months for sickies, but anecdotal evidence suggested bosses dealt with high levels of unexplained absence during school holidays.

In an earlier Southern Cross survey 15 per cent of people admitted taking sickies when they were not ill.