Every year, as cold and flu season approaches, employers, their managers and their HR departments remind employees to stay home if they're sick. And every year employees come to work anyway—with bad colds, full-blown flu and other illnesses.
In fact, 9 in 10 employees admit going to work sick, according to research from global staffing firm Accountemps, a Robert Half company.
They do it despite warnings that by coming to work, sick employees risk infecting others, who, in turn, can go home and infect their families. All it takes are cold or flu germs left on the workplace's microwave or elevator buttons, bathroom faucet handles, coffee machines or refrigerator handles to spread illness.
Accountemps' online survey, which included responses from 2,800 workers employed in offices in 28 U.S. cities, found that:
- One-third said they always go to the office with cold or flu symptoms.
- 54 percent of those who report to the office with cold or flu symptoms said they do so because they have too much work to do.
- 40 percent said they went to work ill because they didn't want to use a sick day.
- 64% said they were afraid of negative repercussions from coworkers and supervisors
- More employees ages 25 to 40 reported going to work sick than respondents of other ages.
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 work feeling sick when they really should be resting.
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. That's easier said than done, however.
Too Much Pressure to Go to Work
One of the biggest reasons that people show up to work sick, according to workplace experts, is because they're afraid.
Afraid that they'll miss out on pay by staying home. Afraid that managers will suspect the sick worker is just slacking off. Afraid that too much absenteeism will lead to a negative performance review. So because of all these fears they go to work anyway.
Messages from the Top
Employees sometimes perceive—whether the perception is real or imagined—that managers question whether the employee is actually ill or just doesn't want to work. Workers may also fear that managers frown on absences, even if they are related to illness.
The fact is that most company's management teams do make comments about how important it is for all employees to be at work and for everyone to do their part. You will rarely hear of a company president announcing during flu season that employees are encouraged to or must stay home if feeling ill, even though technically that is exactly what should happen.
Unfortunately, there is still a widespread mentality in many business cultures that if it's just a cold, for example, be tough. A change in leadership comes from the top; senior leaders need to say it's OK to stay home when sick, and then demonstrate it.
But there's little doubt that if the boss isn't leading by example—and he or she is coming to work sick—then non-management employees will feel they must do the same.
How To Solve the Problem
This is a difficult problem. However, these suggestions should help you do the right thing for both your employees and your company:
Encourage your staffers to say home—and give them the time.
It really is important to communicate with your staffers that you WANT them to stay home when they are sick. That their health and well-being IS important. Tell them, and then tell them again, and then send out an office memo. Really. You can’t stress this enough. If they feel supported in their decision and see management doing this, they’ll follow suit.
Along those lines, make sure to give your staffers the time they need. Sick days really should be a thing of the past. Consider a more lenient time-off policy that enables and encourages all workers to take the time they need.
Create a health and wellness committee to support a healthy work environment.
Another great way to communicate the importance of health and wellness in your work environment is by creating a committee to share information. A health and wellness committee can help spread the word about programs and policies that support workers who are ill.
It can also help workers stay healthy year round by having other focuses on mental health, nutrition, physical activity, sleep, and healthy practices.
Allow flexible and remote work options.
Flexible and remote work options and practices help keep sick workers home. Some illnesses are worse than others. For the simple colds that just make you uncomfortable, flexible work is a great way to let people get the rest they need while staying up on their work.
If they’re very sick and want the time to get better, support that, too! Let them be the adult in the situation and assess their abilities, then do what you can to support those choices.