Canadians most like to play hooky from work when it’s sunny and warm

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

I once worked with a guy who occasionally called in sick. They were short-lived maladies that seemed to coincide with prime skiing or golfing weather.

Now I now why.

Labour economics professor Mikal Skuterud of the University of Waterloo has discovered what he calls the "bliss point" - a ideal combination of sun, wind and temperature that makes playing hooky from work irresistible.

Skuterud applied a formula to data that included daily activity reports and 32 years' worth of Canadian weather information to zero in on the exact bliss point, the Globe and Mail reports.

Here's what to look for: A clear day with a humidex of exactly 27.2 C and a wind speed of 14.7 kilometres an hour.

"People wake up, they see there's this great weather and they have a pent-up demand to do some recreational activities," Skuterud told the Globe.

Skuterud co-authored a paper last October that spelled out his approach to what he calls "shirking absenteeism."

While it's amusing to think we react reflexively to an ideal summer day by doing a Ferris Bueller, absenteeism is a serious and growing problem in Canada.

The Globe reported that an average 913,000 full-time employees miss work every week, adding up to 100 million lost days annually, with the the resultant hit on Canada's economic productivity.

Alberta has the lowest rate of absenteeism in Canada, 7.9 days on average, while Nova Scotia and Quebec are tied at the top with 10.8 days.

Among cities, Gatineau, Que., across the river from Ottawa, ranks highest at 11.7 days, followed by Victoria at 11.1. The lowest rate is in Guelph, Ont., at 6.8 days, followed by Calgary and Toronto at 7.1 days.

Sociology professor Wolfgang Lehmann of the University of Western Ontario said the rise in absenteeism is partly attributable to the stressful impact of layoffs and the strain some have of caring for both children and elderly parents.

The Globe noted unionized workers have higher rates of absenteeism, based on Statistics Canada labour force survey data, but those who shirk work for nice weather are mostly non-union or relatively new employees.

"They're taking a real risk, because they can be fired — easily fired," Skuterud said, adding that non-unionized workers are likely to take the risk only if the reward is high enough.

Women miss 3 1/2 days more than men each year on average for personal reasons, including illness, disability and family responsibilities. They are more likely to be in unions and work in the public sector, which has higher absenteeism rates, the Globe said.

Employees in public-sector jobs miss an average of more than a dozen days a year, 4 1/2 days more than their private-sector counterparts.

[ Related: What's behind rising public service absenteeism? ]

Women with preschool-age kids miss 13 1/2 days a year, more than double that of men with children the same age, according to StatsCan. And men with kids miss less work overall than childless men.

"If you have kids you may be more likely to be the sole breadwinner," economics Prof. Frances Woolley of Carleton University told the Globe.

People in tough jobs are also more likely be off work, according to StatsCan. For example, front-line health workers miss more than two weeks a year on average.

Cutting across all factors, good benefits combined with bad management drive absenteeism, said the University of Toronto's Howard Seiden, an expert on the issue.

"It's not just a gender thing, or an age thing — it's an unhappiness thing," Seiden told the Globe. "People who aren't happy and don't like their jobs look for reasons not to come to work."

[ Related: Public sector sick days cost $1B a year ]