Recently I took a sick day. When I got up, I felt like crap and when my calendar showed ZERO meetings, I decided to take advantage of the situation. Texted my boss & then took a shower & pretended to get ready for work so there would be no fights from my daughters as I took them to the Boys & Girls Club. I then came straight home & proceeded to alternate between napping and feeling guilty for taking a sick day. After all I wasn’t THAT sick. I could have gone to work & probably been fine, though groggy from cold medicine & going through lots of tissues. It’s that “Good Old American Work Ethic.” Are you dead? Nope, better come to work!
Lately there has been a push against this. Pushing towards employers allowing, encouraging, staff to take time off when they are sick. Legislation is getting passed requiring businesses to offer sick days. Presenteeism is a real thing, though we still tend to focus on Absenteeism. Absenteeism is easy to see and to measure. You can easily count the number of times an employee calls in sick. What you can’t count, as easily, is the number of times an employee comes to work sick.
Presenteeism is when an employee comes to work and isn’t able to give their all due to illness. It’s easy to see why an employee would do this, even when sick time is offered. There are tangible and intangible rewards for doing so. Some places offer Perfect Attendance awards. Sometimes the employees want to save their leave in case of a “real” illness — one that will force you to take time off. And sometimes it’s that you feel “the boss is counting on you” and you don’t want to let her down.
At the same time, there is a push for Wellness and giving employees an incentive to live a healthy lifestyle. Shouldn’t taking time off, true time off, to care for yourself in even in minor illness be included? Research shows that regular Well Visits to a physician decrease long term medical costs. Research is starting to show the same thing with Presenteeism.
This is a culture change, especially for the Midwest where the “Good Old American Work Ethic” is probably the strongest. And this is a change that must come from the top. Company leadership need to show that taking a sick day isn’t a big deal. Someone taking a Mental Health day should not cause this much “news”. But we DO need to talk about it if we want to change the culture.
I know there will be some backlash & #whataboutism regarding those employees who take advantage of these leaves. Here’s what you do: Deal with it. Talk to your employee about their leave usage. But STOP blaming a few bad eggs for your crappy sick leave policy or using them as a reason to question your good employees who just need a day off to care for themself. Let’s help our employees stop feeling guilty about taking needed and earned time away from work.