Absence Makes the Office Grow … Healthier

A cold. The flu. A virus. "The crud."

No matter what you call it, seasonal illnesses happen -- and they're contagious. When your workers show up sick, they greatly increase the chances of spreading whatever they've caught to the rest of the team. They're also unlikely to be productive, which means they're wasting time at their desks spreading germs when they could be resting at home.

Why do employees show up sick -- and how can you prevent it? Here's what you need to know.

How Can I Miss You If You Never Leave? How Presenteeism May Be Hurting Your Team

"Presenteeism" occurs when your staff are physically in the workplace, but not productively engaged. Sickness is one of the top causes of presenteeism. Although staff have shown up, they're simply too ill to get anything done.

Some dedicated traditionalists see nothing wrong with presenteeism. After all, staff are on-site and they're sending the message that work is a high priority.

Unfortunately, presenteeism may be costing you. Here's how:

  • Productivity losses are staggering. A Work Foundation report found that lost productivity from presenteeism costs 1.5 times as much as lost productivity from absenteeism. In other words, it's cheaper for your employees to stay home than to come to work sick. That's because...

  • Sick employees beget more sick employees. Seasonal viruses are highly contagious. One ill employee can easily spread the virus to everyone in the workplace, reducing everyone's productivity. If that employee stays home, everyone else's chances of staying healthy and productive increase. And viruses aren't the only thing that's contagious...

  • "Overwork syndrome" can set in. When workers see colleagues come to work sick, they're more likely to push themselves past their own boundaries. Fatigue can wear down the immune system, making it even more likely a worker will catch a seasonal illness...and more likely they'll bring it to work.

If sick workers in the office are putting productivity in peril, what can you do to address it? The first step is to ensure your culture HR policies aren't making the problem worse.

So Long, Farewell: How HR Culture and Policies Can Help Employees Make the Right Calls

Studies show that presenteeism is more common in workplaces that prioritize output and that explicitly or implicitly encourage overwork. Here's how to put your culture on the opposite course.

  1. Reverse the pressure.

    Look for ways in which employees are pressured to work when sick, and start actively doing the opposite: encourage your team members to stay home and recover. Stay alert for and address subtle negative messages from co-workers, as well. Even if the boss says to stay home, it's tough to do when the rest of the team is muttering about your absence.

  2. Review your policies.

    How much paid sick leave do employees receive? How does it accrue? How difficult is the process of accessing it? When employees come back from illness, do they have help returning to their routine, or are they instantly overwhelmed by everything that piled up in their absence?

    Review your company's policies and revise them if necessary, so sick staff have access to the paid time off they need when they need it. Talk to managers to ensure processes are in place to help returning employees get back to work without being overwhelmed.

  3. Revisit the causes.

    Let's say you find a worker trying to finish their tasks through a storm of coughs and sniffles. "I know I should have stayed home," they say, "but there's just too much to do!"

    When workload is high, employees avoid taking time off work because they might miss deadlines or overburden their already overworked colleagues. Dropping the ball, even for a day or two, simply may not be an option. In this situation, managers can do much to revisit and redistribute workloads.

Calling in the Understudy: How Your Staffing Partner Can Help

When employees are sick, it's time to rely on someone else -- like your staffing partner. Staffing firms are equipped to address sudden, temporary absences in a number of ways, including:

  • Last-minute needs. If an employee is suddenly ill, call your staffing partner right away. Chances are good they know someone with a similar skill set who can take on the work temporarily, so no one on the team is overburdened.

  • Gap coverage. If staff will be out sick for an extended period, or are in a transition phase, your staffing partner can recommend qualified temporary workers who can "fill the gap" until the situation settles.

Your staffing partner can also provide insight into sick leave policies, culture changes and ways to attract qualified candidates who can keep productivity high without working themselves or their teammates into the ground. To learn more, talk to a staffing firm today!