Coming to work sick isn’t that unusual, and most of us have. In some instances it’s not an issue (we’re only slightly under the weather), but in others it is, especially during cold and flu season.
An employee with a cold, flu, or other infectious illness is not only less productive and engaged if he or she comes to work, but may also be sicker for longer, with a greater chance of complications (for instance, a cold that turns to pneumonia). He or she can also infect co-workers, as we all well know.
The logical approach, of course, would be for the employee to stay home, at least while contagious, but many don’t.
This practice, otherwise known as presenteeism, could be for any number of reasons, such as no access to paid sick time (especially in the United States), not wanting to lose pay, or needing to use sick time to care for a child or other family member.
Other reasons, according to a 2016 survey by NPR and Harvard’s School of Public Health, include wanting to save sick leave for another time, having too much work, and lack of coverage. Some survey respondents also felt they wouldn’t advance if they took time off.
However, presenteeism is usually counterproductive and often costs companies more than absenteeism says EHS Today, an occupational safety and health publication. Employers that want to reduce it – and thus improve overall productivity – can do the following:
- Recognize the issue
- Monitor employee workloads
- Cross train team members to cover for those who are absent
- Clearly communicate that sick employees should stay home and recover
- Implement a wellness program
- Encourage employees to use their health benefits (e.g., free flu shots, annual physicals, and coverage for mental health issues and chronic conditions)