The Hidden Cost Of Refusing To Take Sick Days

In a culture that values work, how often do we fail to tell ourselves we need to rest and heal?

Cold and flu season has officially arrived.

But with recent figures showing that an alarming amount of employees continue going to work when they’re sick, is it time we started listening to our bodies, not our bosses and called in sick to work?

According to Irish Jobs, sick leave is time off your day to day responsibilities, to stay home and focus on your health without losing your payment.

However, as productivity has become our new faith and an "I'm irreplaceable" attitude rises to the top, the concern of how we're viewed in the workplace causes us to overwork and not listen to our bodies. 

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics (UK), sick days are at an all-time low.

In fact, the number of sick days taken per worker per year has almost halved since 1993; back then the average worker took 7.2 days of sick leave a year, whereas in 2017 that figure had plummeted to 4.1 days.

Back in May of this year, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) reported that presenteeism – the act of going into work when you’re ill – had more than tripled since 2010.

This means that – presumably, out of fear – more and more people are heading into work when feeling genuinely unwell, in the hopes of coming across reliable and hardworking.

Presenteeism or working while sick can cause productivity loss, poor health, exhaustion, and workplace epidemics.

Leavism is another slightly different epidemic. It occurs when a worker uses scheduled time off to perform work tasks or make themselves “always available.”

So, what can be done?

The most obvious, and also least helpful, answer lies in changing our working culture. One which dismisses presenteeism and short lunches as unhelpful and easily avoidable. This change can only come from the top down.

According to Safety and Health Magazine, employers can help curb presenteeism by:

Establishing paid sick leave policies. “The average working American takes 5.2 sick days annually,” the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) states, “so relatively healthy employees should realistically allocate five or six [paid time off] days to sick leave.”

Being flexible. SHRM encourages flexible work arrangements, suggesting that letting employees decide when and where they work can contribute to better work-life balance. Flextime, compressed workweeks, job sharing and shift work are all examples of flexible work arrangements. 

Encouraging breaks. Are your workers burned out? Encourage them to take short breaks to replenish their energy. This may mean a quick chat with a co-worker, engaging in a walking meeting or taking a short nap.

Cross-training workers. If workers are coming in sick because there isn’t anyone else to fill in for them, cross-training workers may help alleviate that pressure. “Knowing they have backup allows sick employees to stay home without feeling guilty or anxious,” SHRM adds.

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