How to get sick workers to stay home

How to get sick workers to stay home

Convincing sick employees in the workplace to stay home is more than a health issue; it’s good business practice. “Presenteeism,” or going to work without being well enough to do the job, costs American businesses more than $150 billion a year. According to a GCC Virgin Pulse study, this is 10 times the cost of absenteeism. Figuring out how to get sick employees to stay home has several benefits:

  • It reduces the spread of illness in the office
  • Productivity levels stay higher — presenteeism reduces productivity by as much as 33 percent
  • The company saves on cleaning costs
  • By improving overall employee health and wellness, you build a stronger, more positive culture

Tell employees it’s okay to stay home — and show them

Often, employees fear penalties for calling in sick, believing they may miss out on special assignments or promotions. Communicate frequently and proactively that you want them to stay home when they’re ill. Send them home if they show up sick. Recognize those who do stay home, perhaps mentioning their consideration in a company newsletter.

Make sure that managers and supervisors support that same culture as well. Eighty-two percent of human resource managers report a company policy encouraging staying at home, but 85 percent of workers in that poll said they still went to work sick. Explore the reasons for that decision and find ways to make employees feel at ease if they have to call in sick. Some reasons named were not wanting to fall behind, not wanting to burden co-workers, or not having any sick leave/wanting to save sick days for “real” illness.

It’s difficult to get sick employees to stay home if they see the boss “soldiering on” and staying in the office. Calling in sick when you’re unwell sends the subtle message that employees’ health is important to you and that it is acceptable to stay out of the office when sick.

Offer flexibility to encourage calling in sick

Non-exempt workers may feel compelled to come to work to avoid losing wages. If you can’t provide paid leave, offer them the chance to make up the missed time during the same pay period.

Sometimes, employees feel well enough to work, but they aren’t well enough to be in the office all day. Provide the tools needed to work from home, such as laptops and network access. Arrange for audio or video conferencing from home, and train workers to use online collaboration tools.

If a project deadline means a sick employee must be in the office, try to arrange an isolated area to minimize the spread of the illness. Encourage this key employee to finish whatever can’t wait and then to return home to recover.

Educate employees about wellness

One problem may be that workers aren’t sure when they ought to stay home; they may feel up to working but not to being in the office. Display labor law and health and wellness posters and provide links to the Centers for Disease Control guidelines for when and how long to stay away.

A health and wellness committee may be useful in promoting overall wellness, providing tips on hand washing and sanitizing work areas, as well as on life/work balance, mental health, nutrition, and activity. For example, they might send out a memo about hand washing, attaching a small container of hand soap or sanitizer, or distribute herbal preventative supplements in employee mailboxes. Such a group can also share information about resources for help and support during an illness.

Another option is to provide on-site health screenings, vaccinations, and inoculations, such as flu shots. Influenza costs companies $87 billion in lost productivity each year and offering the shots at the office may increase the number of employees vaccinated above the average of 50 percent of the population. The subsequent gain in productivity and drop in absenteeism might even offset the cost of offering the shots at no cost to employees.

Prepare for the stubborn

Sometimes, no matter what you say or do, there will be workers who insist on coming to the office. Taking a few precautions can help minimize the impact on the rest of the staff.

Begin by placing tissues and sanitizing wipes at every workstation and encouraging staff to use them. Ask cleaning staff to check the supplies daily and to replenish them as needed. Instruct cleaners to sanitize door knobs, telephone handsets, and exteriors of kitchen appliances daily.

With these tips and a strategic plan for handling absent workers, you can get more sick employees to stay home and be more prepared for those who still come to work.