Sick Policies

Do your employees call in sick too often? Or not enough?  This can pose a real dilemma for management because you don’t want too much absenteeism, yet you don’t want people to come to work sick. The problem of “presenteeism” – when employees come to work even though they are ill, is a concern because sick employees are contagious and less productive.  While the direct hit to the bottom line isn’t immediately evident with presenteeism, the hidden, indirect costs are very high. 

Work is affected whether the sick employee is in production or service.  Quality and quantity of work is reduced when someone works while sick, and these problems, as well as absenteeism, increase more with each employee that catches the sickness.

Nearly half of employers in a national survey* conducted for CCH (a division of Wolters Kluwer) by Harris Interactive reported that presenteeism is a problem in their organizations. Sixty-two percent of the organizations completing the survey reported they send sick employees home, while 41 percent educate employees on the importance of staying home when sick, and 36 percent try to foster a culture that discourages employees from coming to work sick.

While presenteeism remains a concern, so does unscheduled absenteeism, which recently climbed to a five-year high. Companies are offering incentives to reduce absenteeism and are including it as a criteria in performance evaluations. Yet offering rewards for perfect attendance encourages people to come to work sick,which you may not want to do. This is a tough spot for management – how do you keep sick people home but not have too much absenteeism? First, it’s important to note that this increase in absenteeism doesn’t mean employees are sick more frequently.  Respondents to the 2007 Unscheduled Absence Survey indicated that only 38 percent of unscheduled absences are attributable to personal illness. The remaining 62 percent call in sick because of family issues (23 percent), personal needs (18 percent), stress (11 percent), and an entitlement mentality (10 percent). 

In other words, the issues keeping an employee away from work often have nothing to do with a stuffy nose.

A strategy companies are increasingly using is the use of PTO (paid time off) banks, currently used by 67 percent of companies taking the survey. PTO banks provide employees with a bank of hours to be used for various purposes instead of traditional separate leave programs for sick, vacation and personal time. In addition to helping balance work and life, these programs are said to reduce absenteeism as well as presenteeism.

Some traditional absence control and sick day policies may inadvertently encourage employee presenteeism because the employee is forced to come to work when out of sick days. With PTO, the employee has more discretion as to how to use an entire bank of days, so if she’s sick, she can take a day from the bank and stay home, without the fear of being reprimanded or running out of sick days. It also controls for absenteeism because people don’t have as much unscheduled time off. They tend to save their banked time and use it for vacation. On the other hand, the down side of the PTO is that many employees will use all the days offered. Each company must decide whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Aside from the PTO, there are things employers can consider to prevent and deal with presenteeism:

• Discourage employees from coming in when they are ill.

• Teach management to be role models and stay home when sick.

• Plan ahead in the event of a depleted workforce.

• Provide workers with information on where to find vaccination clinics for flu shots.

• Foster workplace hygiene. Encourage handwashing and offer hand sanitizing lotion.

• Offer tea and honey, fruit and orange juice in the break room or lunchroom.

* CCH. (2007). CCH unscheduled absence survey. Riverwoods, IL. Harrison, D., & Martocchio, J. (1998). Time for absenteeism: A 20- year review of origins,offshoots and outcomes. Journal of Management, 24, 305-350.


By: Rose Opengart, Interviews That Work

© 2018, Rose Opengart, Interviews That Work

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