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Go home. Better yet, stay home!

September 7, 2016

By Heather Nezich, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Flu season is coming up and one of the biggest hazards might be your own employees, or you.  Why? People coming to work sick. It’s rude, it’s selfish, and it doesn’t make anyone a hero.  According to an office team survey 70% of workers admit to frequently going to work sick. How can we stop this madness?

When workers show up sick to work, it spreads.  Did you know that cough can travel up to 50mph and expels over 3,000 droplets?  The lightest droplets are unaffected by gravity and can stay in the air indefinitely.  Imagine this is in open work environment.  Gross.

It’s no exaggeration that just one person showing up ill can have detrimental effects on his or her coworkers’ sick time and their families.  Imagine this scenario – Employee A shows up to work with the flu.  He is slumped over at his desk all day working at approximately a 30% lower productivity level.  He is sneezing and coughing all day long.  Employee B walks up to the printer just minutes after Employee A sneezed and sprayed the copy machine with thousands of microscopic droplets filled with flu germs.  A week later Employee A is still at work and recovered, but now Employee B is sick.  She has to call in sick for two days and has now used up the remainder of her sick time for the year.  Employee B is finally better and is back to work for only one day when she receives a call from school.  Little Johnny is sick and has a fever.  She needs to leave work right away, and go get him.  Employee B now misses the next three days (with no sick time available) of work because she is at home taking care of Johnny.  Finally, Johnny is back at school and Employee B is back at work.  But guess what?  Now Employee B’s husband is sick and he can’t pick up the kids from school as he normally does.  So Employee B now has to leave work early for the next three days while her husband is at home ailing.  That department’s productivity was reduced significantly for over a week, and all because one employee came to work with a contagious illness for just one day. “Presenteeism”—showing up to work ill—costs companies $150 billion a year.

Employees need to be educated on the affect that coming to work while sick can have on others.  It’s also important to create a culture in the workplace that is supportive of utilizing sick time and does not reward or commend those who drag themselves in when they really belong in bed – or at the least working from home.  Workers give all sorts of reasons for coming into work sick: no sick time, not enough sick time, work piles up, boss might frown upon them, don’t want to let coworkers down, no one else to do the work, etc. Some of these can be addressed by:

  • Making your sick policy clear.  Your employee handbook should have a written policy that discusses what an employee should do when they are sick.  It should be made known to employees that you would prefer they stay home when ill.
  • Offer paid sick days.  This might be difficult for part-time staff, but it’s something to consider.  Some states are mandating companies offer paid sick time to all employees.  In fact, Google Flu Trends data shows that cities with mandated sick time saw flu cases drop 5%.  For a city of 100,000 people that equates to 100 fewer infections per week.  Michigan doesn’t yet have such a law.  ASE’s Michigan Policies and Benefits Survey shows that only 57% of Michigan employers have a defined sick plan; 24% offer no sick days; and 19% do not have a defined sick plan.
  • Allow employees to work from home.  If given this option, sick employees will typically take advantage of it when sick.
  • Cross-train employees.  Employees are more likely to feel comfortable taking a day off for illness if they know someone else can get the work done.

More and more companies across the nation are starting to offer unlimited sick day policies.  They are finding that the policies are not abused and have actually increased productivity, reduced absenteeism (because less overall workers are getting sick), and increased morale.

In order for employees to feel comfortable calling in sick, there has to be an atmosphere where it isn’t frowned upon.  Creating a supportive atmosphere means that management must communicate to employees that it is OK to stay home when sick.  Perhaps, most important managers must practice what they preach and not show up to work sick.  And finally, employers can’t be afraid to send someone home if they do show up to work while ill.

Until presenteeism is reduced, keep yourself healthy by washing hands often!  And for the sake of everyone, stay home when you are sick.

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