How do you feel when you see a coworker coming toward you hacking and sneezing and wanting approval for coming to work in spite of an illness? I get angry. Not only do I not want to get sick, but I know this employee is going to be pretty useless for the day.
What makes people come to work when common sense tells them to stay home? The lack of sick time is an answer often given. In an effort to save money, many companies have reduced or eliminated sick time so employees face time-off with no pay when they get sick. The number two reason employees are absent is because of parental responsibilities. Often parents hoard sick time to use if a child gets sick so they come to work themselves when staying home is a better option.
But more often employees are afraid that work will pile up or they will miss a deadline. They don’t want to be “left out of things” or “passed over” if they take time off. They want to appear dedicated, “see how sick I am…and I still came to work”.
Changing this paradigm should be an objective of every manager and HR Director. Not only will a sick employee make others sick, but if a sick employee pushes himself to come to work, an illness that could have easily been treated with a day of rest can turn into a five day leave. HR organizations have begun to recognize and measure the cost of presenteeism. That’s when employees come to work but are unable to function fully. They are present and absent at the same time.
In a recent national survey by CCH part of the firm Wolters Kluwer Law and Business; a human resources and employment law information provider, steps to address the problem were noted.

Employers are taking numerous steps to remedy the problem of presenteeism. Over three-fifths (62 percent) of companies that think presenteeism is a problem combat the issue by sending sick employees home; 41 percent educate employees on the importance of staying home when they are sick; 36 percent foster a culture that discourages workers from coming in sick; 22 percent permit employees to telecommute when they are sick; and 5 percent report they give employees an unlimited number of sick days.

While unlimited sick days may seem a radical approach, many companies are implementing earned time-off banks where employees can decide when and for what reasons they will take a day off.

Paid Leave Banks are one type of program that more companies are turning to for help in curbing last-minute no-shows. Paid Leave Banks, also called Paid Time Off (PTO) programs, provide employees with a bank of hours to be used for various purposes instead of traditional separate leave programs for sick, vacation and personal time. These programs were used by just 16 percent of companies back in 1991. By 2005, two-thirds (67 percent) of companies reported using Paid Leave Banks.

One type of absenteeism control technique that doesn’t seem to help keep sick employees home is the traditional punishment techniques. If an employee has too many absences for any reason, they are reprimanded or disciplined. Employees will come to work sick to avoid this. Unfortunately 90% or the employers surveyed by CCH had some sort of absence disciplinary program. The first step in addressing this may be simply to send someone home. But a comprehensive assessment of HR practices related to leave will tell you if you are creating the right culture and sending the right message to keep employees healthy and responsible for their time.


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