The survey, by recruitment company Talent2, found that 40 per cent of Australian employees believed that it was justified taking a day off at times just for themselves.
The study, conducted by psychologists at Onetest, also discovered that many took sick leaves to recharge or attend to unfinished "personal admin", such as running household tasks.
However, the researchers placed dissatisfaction at work as the primary reason for illegitimate sick days. "A study by Gallup found the single biggest reason people take sick leave is management," News.com.au quoted Cherie Curtis, organisational psychologist with recruitment and workplace solutions company Onetest, as saying.
"People tend to take 'sickies' when they are unhappy at work or don't feel rewarded. They may not want to face their boss, co-worker or think it won't be noticed. Others are too stressed to go to work, or they may want to avoid a deadline," she added. She further said that for employees, taking break was a perceived way of redressing an imbalance or sense of disempowerment.
"Employees who don't feel well treated or appreciated take it upon themselves to make things balanced. Their attitude becomes 'I deserve it' or 'I'm owed it', so they feel justified in taking a day off," she said.
Curtis revealed that staff takes sick days at certain "crunch times" of the year, periods when stress and deadlines are at their height.
"People will take sick days at the end of the financial year and also at times when it's more acceptable generally to be sick. It won't be so noticeable then, she said.
However, workers don't tend to take sickies when they start a new job, she said. "It takes time to figure out what is the norm in that workplace, and they learn it by watching what happens when someone else takes a sickie. If there are no consequences, the door for sickies is seen to be legitimately opened," she said.
Juliet Bourke, a partner at Aequus Partners, said that a lateral approach and greater workplace flexibility could prove helpful in reducing sick leaves.
"Enabling greater workplace flexibility has been shown in research to result in lower levels of unplanned absences. If employees can plan a morning off to meet a tradesman they won't disguise the absence by taking a 'sickie,'" Bourke said.