Pass it on: Coming to work when sick can present business productivity issuesCoughing attacks, sneezing fits and body aches are enough to make anyone feel miserable — but are they enough to keep a person home from work? All too often, that’s not the case, and it is co-workers who suffer.
By: By Terri Dougherty/J. J. Keller & Associates Inc., Superior Telegram
Coughing attacks, sneezing fits and body aches are enough to make anyone feel miserable — but are they enough to keep a person home from work?
All too often, that’s not the case, and it is co-workers who suffer. Feverish employees who head into the office because they’re insecure about their job or fear a loss of pay usually end up doing little more than spreading germs.
Employees who drag themselves to work when they’re sick bring “presenteeism” with them. They’re physically present at work, but they negatively impact productivity through reduced personal performance and by passing illness on to colleagues.
January and February are prime times of the year for outbreaks of presenteeism, as those months are typically the peak of the flu season. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people with flu-like illness stay at home until at least 24 hours after the fever is gone, not everyone takes this advice.
Employers can minimize presenteeism by taking actions that encourage sick employees to stay home and keep their germs to themselves, said Katie Loehrke, editor of the SUPERadVISOR management newsletter and LivingRight wellness bulletin.
Employers should spread the word that taking a sick day when you’re truly ill is not a bad thing.
“If you have no reason to believe an employee is misusing sick time, make sure he or she is not made to feel guilty about staying home,” she said.
Loehrke also warns of the potential pitfalls of a policy that requires employees to bring in a doctor’s note in order to take a sick day.
“A contagious illness won’t always necessitate a trip to the doctor,” she said. “Employees might choose coming in to work sick over the potential hassle and cost of visiting a doctor.”
To avoid an outbreak of presenteeism, employers should reassure their workers they won’t be penalized for staying home when they’re sick. A study written by Gary Johns of Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, and published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology noted employees who feel more secure in their job are not afraid to miss a day of work due to illness.
Workplace culture also makes an impact. Johns noted some employees feel obligated or pressured to go to work, even when they’re not feeling well. His study shows those who viewed calling in sick as a legitimate option reported more sick days, but far fewer days of presenteeism.
Another study, done in the United Kingdom by University of Warwick researchers and published in the Human Resource Management Journal noted that a multitude of factors can come into play when a sick employee is deciding whether or not to head to work.
Some workers believe that no one else can do their job, while others would lose money if they called in sick. A manager’s reaction to absences, and his or her own decisions on whether to come to work when sick, also made an impact.
An employee who decides that he’s not healthy enough to go to work may stay home because he fears making others sick or has the impression that coming to work when ill is not acceptable.
Making sure employees understand they don’t have to be at work when they’re sick can pay off. The Warwick study noted a higher level of employee well-being and commitment appeared in organizations that placed less pressure on absent employees.
On the other hand, having sick employees in the workplace can be costly. A German study showed presenteeism costs the economy twice as much as absence because of sickness.
If an employee is obviously ill and a significant health threat to other workers, an employer can insist the worker head home.
“It’s a situation that must be handled on a case-by-case basis,” Loehrke said. “However, employers generally can feel comfortable requesting employees leave the workplace if they have the flu and their illness is serious enough to pose a health risk to other workers.”
J. J. Keller and Associates Inc., headquartered in Neenah, Wis., offers a diverse line of products and services to address the broad range of responsibilities held by human resources and corporate professionals. To learn more, visit www.jjkeller.com and www.prospera.com.