Everywhere you look in your office, you see people with runny noses and red eyes. Others are wearing heavy sweaters even though the heater is running. You even heard someone in the breakroom bragging about coming to work to finish a project despite having a 101° fever. Meanwhile, you’re thinking about bringing a business-casual hazmat suit to work.
Even if they have paid sick time, American employees come to work when they’re sick. According to an NPR study, only 16% of employees with paid sick time used it all. Of the 84% who didn’t, 37% said they wanted to save their paid time, 20% said they had too much work to do, and another 20% said they would get ahead by not using the time.1
This is not good. When workers come into the office with an illness, they’re more likely to make mistakes and stay sick longer. They’re also endangering everyone else at the office, especially pregnant and older folks and those with compromised immune systems.
There’s a better way. Developing a telecommuting policy and communicating your company’s sick-time policies, for example, can cultivate a healthier workspace. This list will take you through five inexpensive ways to keep sick employees at home.
1. Communicate Before People Get Sick
The war against office germs starts with good communication. Make sure the person in your department who handles onboarding and speaks to employees on their first day discusses the company’s sick-time policy. Emphasizing from the beginning the importance of taking sick time when needed can stop a work-unless-dead attitude before it starts.
Before the start of flu season, which usually begins in October, send a company-wide reminder email covering your employer’s sick-time policy. Send the email again if you see or hear about people coming to the office when they’re under the weather. OSHA recommends communicating symptoms and complications of the flu to make it easier for people to recognize when they need to stay home,2 so consider adding those facts to your email as well.
2. Use Your Sick Time, and Encourage Managers to Do the Same
You can send 40 emails a day on paid sick leave and flu symptoms, but it won’t matter if people still see their co-workers coming to work with coughs and sniffles. One easy way to stand up to the status quo: Use your sick time if you’re sick. No apologies. If you feel up to it, set up an out-of-office email noting a contact and whether you’ll check your email while out sick. When you’re well and back in the office, ask your manager where you need to pick up, but again, don’t apologize.
3. Promote Cross-Training
Earlier in my career, I worked in a department where only one person had particular admin rights to three of the software programs on which everyone relied. One person. If she got sick or had a family emergency, everyone else had to wait with bated breath for her to return and press a few buttons that we couldn’t access. Not only did this create a huge bottleneck, but it also put a ton of pressure on this super admin, who knew she couldn’t take a day off without causing chaos, regardless of how sick and miserable she may feel.
If one person taking a sick day derails an entire team, that team may need better cross-training. Nobody on the team needs to be an expert on everyone else’s job, but everyone needs to understand other roles well enough to keep work from unraveling because of a single person’s absence. By learning the tasks needed to complete one another’s projects and objectives, department colleagues can avoid relying on a single person and thus alleviate some of the communal pressure to come in sick.
Make sure people have access rights to the software and programs they need to cover for someone else. Shared drives, open and regular communication between coworkers, and standardized terminology can help everyone on the team get on the same page. Weekly status meetings or emails can also be a big help.
4. Add Telecommuting and Flex-Time Policies
Nobody likes to hold off an important doctor’s visit or be stuck in rush-hour traffic while battling a cold because of restrictive office protocol. As expectations change, more businesses are making the in-office-from-nine-to-five rule a thing of the past. Instead, more office policies feature flexible work schedules or telecommuting options.
Some flex-time policies allow employees to select from varied shifts. For example, employees can choose to work from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Policies can also allow employees to work from home as needed. Telecommuting helps employees who are recovering from illness but still contagious complete their tasks without spreading any germs or viruses, and flex time makes it easier to schedule medical appointments.
5. Provide Flu Shots in the Office
The best defense is a good offense. By hosting in-office flu shots, you can prevent many employees from getting sick in the first place. According to the CDC, only 37% of American adults got a flu shot last year,3 and let’s be honest: hectic schedules probably played a role in that statistic. In-office flu shots eliminate a step in those schedules. Plus, your company’s health insurance provider may cover the pharmacists who supply the vaccines. By getting the flu shot themselves, employees are also protecting their spouses and kids, not to mention their colleagues, further reducing time and money lost to treating the flu.
These steps can help you create an office where people feel comfortable taking the time they need to get better, so you don’t have to invest in hazmat suits or hire office bouncers armed with thermometers to guard the front door. Do you have any tips for keeping sick folks at home? Let us know in the comments!
These steps can help you create an office where people feel comfortable taking the time they need to get better, so you don’t have to invest in hazmat suits or hire office bouncers armed with thermometers to guard the front door.
Do you have any tips for keeping sick folks at home? Let us know in the comments!
- NPR, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard. The Workplace and Health. https://www.npr.org/documents/2016/jul/HarvardWorkplaceandHealthPollReport.pdf.
- “Employer Guidance: Reducing All Workers’ Exposures to Seasonal Flu Virus,” OSHA, https://www.osha.gov/dts/guidance/flu/nonhealthcare.html.
- “Estimates of Influenza Vaccination Coverage among Adults—United States, 2017–18 Flu Season,” CDC, FluVaxView, published October 25, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/flu/fluvaxview/coverage-1718estimates.htm