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Reduce presenteeism – it isn’t helping anyone

November 21, 2018

By Heather Nezich, courtesy SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Flu season has arrived and one of the biggest hazards might be your own employees, or you.  Why? People coming to work sick, otherwise known as presenteeism.   According to an office team survey 70% of workers admit to frequently going to work sick.

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.  

Dr. Lee Norman, the chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Hospital, acknowledges that people “want to demonstrate to their bosses and coworkers that they have a strong work ethic, so a lot of them suck it up and go to work.  It might be a noble idea, but it doesn’t work well for containing the spread of diseases.”

Presenteeism 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.  A survey from global public health and safety organization NSF reveals that 25% of the U.S. workers the group surveyed said their boss expects them to come in no matter what.  42% of workers “have deadlines or are afraid they will have too much work to make up if they take a sick day,” and 37% said they can’t afford to take the time off.

Presenteeism can be reduced 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.

  • 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.

  • Consider implementing an employee wellness program. Such a program can proactively address some types of health issues, resulting in fewer illnesses overall. It can also have the indirect effect of promoting a culture of wellness, which may result in employees being more encouraged to take care of themselves when ill.

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 encourage team members to do the same. 

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