Tell sick employees to go home

Sick colleagues showing up to work costs companies millions in lost productivity – not to mention the impact on the health of individuals and teams. Kirsten Levermore finds out what you can do to help even workaholics stay home

We’ve all been there – the deadline you can’t miss rapidly approaching, the day’s pay you desperately need, the presentation that requires all of your focus and energy. And, then –
Sniff. Sneeze. Cough.

Yet there you are the next day, at your desk. And all the painkillers and cold and flu meds are going to keep you there.

Attending work when we are ill is to defy nature

When we get sick, our bodies go into a kind of survival mode, designed to maintain the health and safety of the body, an impulse dating back to our earliest ancestors. For example:

You’re not hungry. A lack of hunger when we are really sick is a throwback to the days when feeling unwell and dizzy would make hunting our food very tricky – and make running from predators even more dangerous.

You want the lights off. Some researchers suggest that a sick person’s aversion to light is to do with our poorly ancestors seeking out caves for safety so that they could rest and recover from their illness away from the dangers of open areas (where predators could be hiding).

You want to sleep. When we are ill, our bodies must expend huge amounts of energy for us to get better. And, in addition, a flu, for example, can impair movement and sap strength – not great if you need to sprint from a lion at any moment.

Your body is responding to illness the same way it has for millennia. So, ask yourself, why am I at work?

Motivation and managers: treat the cause, not the symptoms

A new study published earlier this week in the International Journal of Psychology examines possible motivations behind presenteeism and what might be done to prevent it.

Results showed that employees who felt they had less managerial support exhibited presenteeism more often than those who felt supported.

Speaking about the findings and their significance, lead author of the study, Dr Greta Mazzetti suggested managers’ supportive skills be trained and developed, to prevent employees from showing up to work when sick.

As to the ‘why’ people might show up to work? One theory is that workers believe they need “permission to be sick”. Another, however, is addressed in the study: people who work even when it is in their best interests not to (i.e. workaholics) are attempting to avoid tension, anxiety, guilt and feeling worthless, which they believe will occur if they don’t work.

With the global push towards mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, perhaps there is a role for managers and human resources to play, here, too?

Presenteeism and workaholism may keep “bums on seats” – but, ultimately, they are bad for your employee and bad for business.

Click here to read five things your company can do right now to better support colleagues and tell them “it’s okay” to be ill and, more importantly, to recover before heading back to work.