A 2019 study by Accountemps, a staffing and human resources company, revealed that pre-COVID-19, 90% of employees regularly go into work while sick, and 33% always go to work with cold or flu symptoms. Reasons given included having too much to do, not wanting to use sick leave, and not being able to afford taking time off.
Throughout the Coronavirus pandemic we have been repeatedly reminded of the importance of wearing a face mask to reduce the risk of spreading the contagion, whether we are infectious, immune, or a possible asymptomatic carrier. The actions taken by individuals to protect themselves as well as their neighbors and coworkers has been encouraging for humanity, but also raises additional concerns. For example, why hasn’t this level of response (staying home or wearing a mask) always been a standard when people get sick? Shouldn’t the admonition to protect others that are more susceptible to disease be a universally accepted practice - everywhere?
"Whether it's due to large workloads, pressure from the boss or because they can't afford to take time off, it's all too common for employees to come to the office feeling sick when they really should be resting," said Michael Steinitz, senior executive director of Accountemps, a division of Robert Half. "Staying home when you've got a cold or the flu is the best way to avoid spreading germs to others and fight the illness faster."
We’ve all been there – sitting in a staff meeting and the person next to you has a box of tissue, steaming teacup filled with Theraflu, and a Rudolph Red-Nose that suggests they should have remained home. But nope, they dragged themselves into the office like a patron saint of the sick, as if to say, look at me powering through #unstoppable #reliable. But really, their reluctance to stay home puts everyone’s health at risk and its incumbent upon companies to incorporate systems that protect their entire workforce.
What would appear to be common sense and basic human decency can be lost in the stigma of “calling out” in which an employee could be perceived as unproductive, lazy, or exploitative of company benefits (even if those benefits are theirs to exploit). And it is true that excessive absences can equate to decreased productivity and can have a major effect on company finances, morale and other factors. However, a gift that COVID-19 has given employers in most industries is a pathway forward in creating hybrid workspaces that allow employees to transition from office to home and back – with ease.
Empowering employees with the option to either take sick leave or work from home when they are not feeling well, however often that occurs, is a great mitigation strategy every company with remote working capabilities should consider.