Cold and flu season is upon us, which means an uptick in health-related absences from work. This can leave both employees and employers questioning the factors and costs associated with working while sick or staying at home, with employers walking a fine line between openly offering paid sick leave and encouraging employees to use it, or inadvertently encouraging sick workers to show up by not having a clear and comprehensive sick leave policy in place. Addressing the issues around sick leave can go a long way towards building a healthier, happier, and more productive workforce.
Why Do Employees Work When Sick?
Although staying home while sick rather than taking the risk of infecting colleagues seems to be common knowledge, individuals still choose to show up to work for several reasons. In the absence of paid sick leave, presenteeism – the act of showing up to work while sick – might be necessary for employees due to personal financial concerns. Other considerations include the difficulty of finding effective coverage and hindering productivity due to their absence. Another pressing and pervasive concern may be the worry that their organization would not support them being absent from work, even for a serious and potentially contagious health issue.
Sharing is Not Caring
Having an employee show up to the office while sick has the potential to negatively impact the individual, the team they work in, and the organization as a whole.
How? Working while sick extends the illness, making the unwell employee less productive for a longer period of time. Presenteeism can also spread the illness to other employees, multiplying absences and affecting productivity. Understandably, employee workplace satisfaction can also suffer when contagious workers and the potential for infection are present.
The cost of illness in the workplace is more than a decline in employee satisfaction. Along with the spread of sickness, presenteeism can also take a tangible financial toll on the organization.
Paying the Lesser Price
Although compensating employees for missing work while sick may seem like a significant expenditure, studies have found that the cost of presenteeism is actually about ten times that amount. Research shows that paid sick days are affordable for many businesses, and do not have a significant effect on the bottom line. Organizations in Connecticut, for instance, reported that they did not incur any substantial increase in operation costs, and saw only a four percent reduction in their working hours.
It’s clear that having a comprehensive sick day policy is beneficial, both for employers and employees. If possible, an organization’s policy should provide financial compensation for the time needed to recuperate, and ensure that the employee will be covered if they need to be away for an extended period. The policy should also keep sick days separate from vacation benefits, to discourage presenteeism from employees who may worry about losing recreational time off.
Managing Absenteeism Policies
Despite the many benefits to offering paid time off for ill employees, one drawback to consider is the fear of sick-day abuse. This is a situation where workers take advantage of a lenient policy on illness, and contribute to reduced productivity through an excess of unplanned absences.
However, strong incentives for good attendance can help combat this. A survey from the International Personnel Management Association discusses effective options such as cash-out of unused sick leave at retirement, monetary compensation for unused sick leave, and sick leave sharing or leave banks.
Paving the Way for Well-Being
One of the strongest strategies in fighting illness-related absenteeism (and presenteeism) is prevention.
A great way to keep your employees healthy and on top of their game is to implement a wellness program. These programs can boost productivity by preventing sickness through nutrition, fitness, and medical programs, like flu shots and screenings for longer-term health concerns.
Another way to reduce sick days is to provide mental health support. 1 in 5 adults in the US and Canada struggle with mental health and symptoms like anxiety, depression, and insomnia, so it is essential to invest in employee wellness on a psychological level, as these symptoms can also account for a large number of absences.
Finding the Perfect Fit
In addition to a clear and comprehensive leave policy, the best way to address employee illness is to adopt a culture that trusts that employees know when they need to take a day off, rest, and regain their strength to be productive. In addition, an employer that is ready to provide support and coverage to accommodate a necessary health-related absence will likely see a boost in productivity and employee satisfaction.
For tips on how to improve or implement effective sick leave policies, or to learn more about staffing solutions in the case of unexpected absences, feel free to get in touch with the experts at TPD. You can reach us here, or by phone at 1.888.685.3530.