Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Fighting presenteeism
A voice from the hallway said, "Hold the elevator."

We did. On reflection, perhaps we made the wrong choice.

A man with weepy eyes and a runny nose got on. Sneezing, he looked like death warmed over.

A few days later, my throat was scratchy, my body achy and I was sneezing constantly. I looked like death warmed over... but wearing fuzzy slippers.

Now I have no way of knowing for sure whether the elevator "germ man" got me sick. And before my mom calls, let me say I know it is not nice to call people names, but it is hard to be compassionate when you feel dizzy every time you stand up. Fortunately, the fever has passed. But my opinion is still the same: I am sick (yes, pun intended) and tired of people coming to work ill when they should be at home recuperating.

You might wonder why I am downright evangelical about this topic. I use to be just like the "germ man." My conversion happened a few years back when I developed a pinched nerve in my neck. A supervisor made me feel guilty for calling in sick. (Apparently MY pinched nerve was an inconvenience for HER.) So, high as a kite on pain pills, I worked. And I seethed. Perhaps it was the influence of the drugs, but I had an epiphany: Sick days exist for a REASON. From that point, I vowed to stand my ground when I was sick.

Staying home when you are sick is not only the best thing for you, but also your company. According to a study released last year, "presenteeism" is a growing concern for businesses. When people come to work sick, they are less productive and are likely to infect co-workers. Interestingly, the study also found that companies with low morale also have more ill workers showing up for work.

With flu and cold season quickly approaching, I want to know what you think. Is "presenteeism" a problem at your office? Do you feel obligated to work even when you are sick? And if so, why?

I look forward to reading your responses. In the meantime, I need to grab some disinfectant. I just heard someone sneeze.
Hi Jen:

We have a company policy. Plan ahead, anticipate client needs and stay home if you are sick. Not one person is so special that we can't live without you for a week.
Everyone is cross trained on every person's position. We are a team and the team can and will just pick up the slack.

If you are sick, stay home, get some rest and if you need it, go to the doctor!

We are highly productive people when we are well not when we are sick. We also have a policy for our clients, if you are sick, please reschedule your appointment.

This is called respect. How do we enforce the policy? I enforce it because I am the boss and the owner of the business.
I work for Mayo Clinic and they have a very stri absense policy. Only 2 days per quarter anything beyond that is cause for disipline. Doctors note does not excuse the absense. So I must work sick unless its near the end of quarter where I may be able to avoid getting into trouble.
I work in a hospital where I'm always being sneezed on and lord knows what kinds of germs rest on every surface. If I or my co-workers stayed home every time we had something, we'd be home way more than our allotted sick days. I also have to use sick days for dental and doctor's appointments, so I have to be careful about making sure I only take a sick day if I'm REALLY sick or else I run out. There isn’t anyone else who can do my job, so staying home isn’t something I can get away with unless it’s serious. I only take a sick day if I have a fever or something else than really affects my ability to get work done.
I have to go to work even if I am sick, although I completely agree with you. However my company give me 10 PTO (paid time off)days. These include sick, vacation and personal time. By the time I reach cold and flu season I have next to no time available. Maybe if employers offered better benefits we could all stay home and not infect others.
At my job, you get eight days for the entire year. Those are your sick days and requested days off. If you're in your first year, they are also the only vacation days you have. And we can only call in Monday-Thursday. Friday-Sunday call-ins can get you into trouble. And some weeks, we can't even call in Monday-Thursday because of special events at our workplace.

If I feel obligated to work even when I am sick, it is because I am in fact OBLIGATED to work when I am sick. And I'm always sick, as are many of the people I work with.
I guess no one wants to work with high fever...only if you comapny give you enough sick leave.
Unfortunately, I DO feel obligated to work when I'm sick. And do you know why? Because I have a job that I adore, but that has no benefits. No insurance to go to the doctor when I'm sick, no sick days or vacation time to use when I need a day off, and no way to remedy the situation without changing jobs. If I start feeling bad, I just start popping vitamin C lozenges and drinking hot tea and praying that it doesn't get worse.

When I have had sick days in other jobs, I've used them when I needed them. But it's hard to take a day off work when you live paycheck to paycheck and have no sick time. I've done it once, but I was so sick that day that I had absolutely no choice. And I had a heck of a time catching up on the bills because of the pay that I lost.
A lack of paid sick days and tight budgets motivate most folks to go into work when ill. Another factor in those "low morale" workplaces you mentioned is the fear of being fired for absenteeism. Generally, if I don't have a fever and I can talk then I have to go in if I want to remain employed.
steph said...i do not like the fact the we do have to work sick sometimes even with sick days but i think that the employers should support you when you are sick these days employers do not use their judgement on calling off sick-WE NEED SUPPORT IN OUR DECISIONS ESPECIALLY THOSE THAT DO NOT CALL OFF OR GET SICK OFTEN
I work in health care and ironically i am expected to show up and take care of others who are ill when i am ill myself. why? staffing. i face tremendous peer pressure to show up ill because my absence puts a large burden on those who must cover my patient load in addition to their own. this is something about the health care industry that i have always despised! on top of that, very few sick days.
I live in Europe (Italy), and I work in a susidiary of a big US corporation.
I've got 25 vacation days and 10 days off for personal time each year (wich are in fact vacation days because of I'm "exempt").
Here in Italy we have also 11-12 National Holidays and compulsory days off (total 46 days - 9 weeks), and of course here in Europe we've got no limits for sick days (logically there can't be a limit to sickness). I work in mean 8 hours a day and when I work more or on Week Ends I have unformal "recover time" on other days (even if I'm "exempt" it doesn't mean I'm married with my job)... Oh, and of course when i don't want to get off the bed an when I've got no meetings I can telecommute, so even when I'm moderately sick I can be productive wihout risking my collegue's health. To an US workaholic's eyes I can seem a slacker, but HE is ill, not me. I can think about working 12-16 hours a day and having no time off for a CEO 15 Million$ wage, not for a clerk/executive or other "normal" contract... for this 8 hours for 210 days a year (1.680 hours) is enought...
Most of the folks who have responded have already said what I would say. PTO is used for all needed time off, as RNs, there really isn't someone to take your place, and we get in trouble at evaluation time for taking time off when ill. This translates into a smaller raise. The system sucks, but unless we get more nurses and better benefits ( UNIONS) it probably won't change significantly.
Hi Jen,

The reason I go to work even if I feel like the 'Undead' is simple; I try to dodge being stereotyped. I'm the youngest one at the office. Although many times I have proven my worth to the company, and have never taken a sick day* in my 1.5 years here, I still somehow fall into that category of the "Young slacker, Gen-X'er" whose trying to beat the system by using a 'Sick Day' just to sleep in or recover from a hangover.

Logic never competes with company policy...

*I was sick with an extremely high fever and called my boss and explained to her that I was sick; yet when it came time for me to pick my vacation days She said I only had 9 instead of 10 saying that I took off that day and I wasn't sick. I explain to her that I called out sick. Came in the following day, even though I was still sick, but to no avail...So I have never 'technically' taken a sick day, but I sure tried to.
Fortunately I'm one of those people who never get sick. Even if I did I have a job that is flexible and can work from home.

I also have small children who are blessed like me and can't remember the last time they were home sick. But I wonder from all these people posts how on earth they can take off to take care of a sick child if they can't even take off when they are sick. Does this mean sick children get drugged up and send to day care? My preschool has a policy where it tries to 'catch' these parents by asking a lethargic, whining, sneezing/couging child what was the color of the medicine the took that morning. If it is was red/purple/orange the parents get called back in even if their child is currently not running a fever.

Strange world to live in if little childrem aren't even allowed to stay home and recuperate. Can I move to Italy?
I do feel that way, my job is high volume and very customer service based. According to the company policy with my 14 yrs in service, I am alloted 160 days per year for sick days. And if I do have sick days, 5 or more in a 6 month period. It is brought up on my salary review, even if I am in the top 1% product producers in my department. Go figure, corporate American is more concerned about the product number than the employees. But let a manager get sick and they can be out for days.
Enough said
I've worked at places that tell you how presenteeism stablizes the workforce, making operations better. How is it better when the employees are upset over not being able to call in sick? At this company, the amount of times you called in sick or personal could have an affect on your merit review for your raise. And forget about stepping into a leadership role if people think you call in sick too much. If we could take the time to rest and not feel overwhelmed, we would be sick less and recover faster.
I work for a large corporation that's actually pretty good in the benefits department (I'm in Canada, so that might make a difference) but the big issue is staffing -- when there aren't enough warm bodies to keep the doors open, you go to work as long as you can sit in a chair and not pass out. Our company has pledged not to lay off any workers over the years and has kept that promise. However, due to large numbers of retirements, our numbers have shrunk to a level that means that if even one person is out sick, the whole system teeters on collapse. People have come to work with laryngitis, food poisoning, flu, sinus infections, and all sorts of things. Since we deal with the public, germs really get shared.
Hi Jen,

I fell sick and tried to work from home, I was told I could not do that. ( I only get 15 Personal/ vacation/ Sick Days) and my family lives abroad.
Much as we would like to stay home and work or rest and not get other people sick, it is the employers who need to take the initiative.
Staying home when sick, especially with a contagious illness, is encouraged where I work.

I work for a major government contractor. Our sick leave is considered to be short-term disability. Our short-term disability benefits give us full pay for 5 working days plus five working days per year of service, after which our pay drops to 50% for a total of 6 calendar months. After 6 months, a long-term disability plan must cover us, or our pay drops to zero. The short-term disability clock resets to sero time used after 20 consecutive working days without any sick leave. We are only expected to get a doctor's note if we are gone more than 10 working days in a row.

We are able to take sick-leave in one-hour increments. So if I am sick in the morning and feel better later, or if I start feeling sick after getting to work, I can miss part of the day. We also have flex-time, which allows us to make up missed time at any time within the same two-week pay period, including on weekends. We can set up a special long-term work schedule with supervisor approval. We also have excused time when it is not possible to make up the time. Use of flex time or excused time requires supervisor approval.

It wasn't always this good, but it has gotten better as the market for employees has gotten more competitive.
I totally agree, we need to change some things about the way we view sick days. I'm actually a doctor and all through med school and training it was IMPOSSIBLE to call in sick. To do so was very against the structure of how doctors are taught and viewed as an insult to everyone around you. Also, you were serverly looked down upon and discriminated against for calling in. Now as a full time working physician I can never call in sick as our group is very small and structured in a way that there is no one to cover you even for a day. We often go to work ill with fevers and flu because we literally have no choice. We have no help and fewer and fewer doctors are being trained because of the poor state of American health care. It's a serious problem.
I get six sick/personal days per year, but when you work in a two-person office and your boss is out of town for business, you come in whether you're sick or not because SOMEONE has to keep things running.
How about students who come to school sick? As a teacher, it just about kills me every winter!
I know it is hard on working parents, but please, give us a chance!
First of all, I rarely get sick... once every 3 years or so and when I do it's really bad. When I was a waitress at a chain family restaurant (Perkins Restaurant) I called my manager the morning of my evening shift to say that I was dreadfully sick in bed. (To give him time to find a replacement for me) Fever, headache, chest infected, coughing, blowing my nose, sneezing. He said that without proof I had been to the doctor I would lose my job. That night many of my customers complained to management that a sick waitress was serving them food!
I was an RN teaching at a high school medical magnet program. The students had my class for a half-day. The morning section had 63 kids, the afternoon had 58. My first co-teacher quit almost immediately. The building for this program was not finished when school started. Classes were in the football stadium in a room under the seats - all of it concrete. I developed pneumonia from a cold gone bad. A chest x-ray scared the doctor who wanted to immediately admit me to a hospital. I refused, got the shot of antibiotics he ordered and took the prescriptions for the oral meds to a pharmacy on my way home. At the school nurse's office my temp was 101.0. At the doctor's office an hour later it was 102.1.

A new co-teacher was hired literally while I was going from the school to the doc's office. The next morning my supervisor called me at home, screamed that the principal was very angry that I let the new co-teacher start with me out and to get my a** down there immediately. My temp was down to 101.5 so maybe I was delirious. But I went. What a dummy I was. And the new co-teacher broke down crying multiple times a day from the first day on. She quit and joined the Air Force in less than 2 months.
At our office, only certain people seem to be "allowed" to be ill, and they push it to the nth degree. If they have a sniffle, a headache or get their teeth flossed, they stay home "sick". However, those of us who are the long-term employees who work our tails off whether we feel like it or not(I had pneumonia once, and had to come in and bring my breathing treatments with me) are expected to be here come heck or high water. Although it's nice to be needed, it also makes one resentful to see that those of no value can do what they want, while those who really work are expected to be here no matter what (I had extensive surgery on a Thursday, and my boss wanted to know if I'd be in on Friday to cover for him). I have misseed 3 days in over 10 years, and am EXPECTED to be at work, since nobody else seems to care.

Our boss so generously "allows" 2 sick days a year to certain employees, yet others take unlimited time off...his theory is that if you give sick days, people will take them. So, you can see why certain people come to work ill at our office.
The policy in the US regarding sick time and vacation time is an absolute travesty. This, in a country lead by so-called "compassionate conservatives" who really DON'T value families. As a nurse, I can attest to the fact that most people in this country have a heck of a time actually taking time off without the risk of losing their jobs.

I would move to Europe in a heartbeat, where they seem to remember that people are humans, NOT machines.
Hi workers of the world,

I just moved to Austria recently and as a complete newby in my office I get 25 paid vacation days a year, a guarantee that I never have to work more tan 40 hours a week and unlimited, paid sick days. When sick, we go to see our doc (national health care), geta note and stay home till we're better. All employees in Austria get these benefits. Employers don't and can't get mad when people are out sick. It just happens. People get sick! At my office, we are encouraged to stay at home, or go home when we're sick - it helps us recover more quickly and keeps the rest of the office from getting sick.

Of course, people seem to be sick more here than they were back in the states. A cold or headache seem to be a valid reasons to stay home. I couldn't justify staying home because of a headache, and I sure won't sit in my doc's waiting room for an hour just to stay home a day unless I am really too sick to work.

Changing an entire nation's and economy's policy on sick-days seems almost impossible, and it probably is. What needs to change are the attitudes and values that produced this situation. The value of a human being (ie, every employee) needs to be placed above the product. After all, the most well-oiled system can't run without its operators and participants.

Whishing all a healthy flu season!
It seems to me the profession of Bank Teller is one of those jobs you are never supposed to get sick for. Even though the supervisors say they support a family oriented business, I was told after taking two days off in two years that if I took one more day off by the end of 2007 I would have a written account of doing so in my file . I have about 6 weeks sick leave built up but am told I can not use it . That my being sick is a hardship for our customers . This is company wide and I am shocked that a family oriented business would treat all of the employees this way .Why do Americans have to deal with this while Europe has such a more relaxed attitude with time off ? Nothing will be done in my lifetime . I can only hope better for my grandchildren.
I've had chronic bronchitis for over 20 years. In that time I've learned that when the "fuzzy/cottony" feeling starts in my throat and chest I go to the doctor and get antibiotics, and go home and stay there usually around 2-3 days. I get well faster, am out of work less and don't have to worry about getting my co-workers sick or me getting some other illness from then when my immune system is not at peak performance.
Why should companies care about employee sickness? You are a RESOURCE (think Human Resources). You wouldn't keep a car that breaks down too much, would you? Well if you as a RESOURCE get sick more than they are comfortable with then that impacts their bottom line, as by extension, their stock price. We live in a capitalist country, and you are a commodity in a market (the labor market). Companies seek the highest quality and if you don't make the cut there are stacks of resumes of people waiting to take your job. Its a free market. Don't kid yourself; corporate America places little importance on turnover rates as long as they are getting a better deal.
So when flu Fred or sneezing Suzy goes to work it is about SURVIVAL in the labor market.
I worked for ten years at a company with a very a generous sick day policy. Officially, there may have been an number, but essentially we could be out sick when we deemed it necessary. There was one year I was out for a week and was told I didn't need to report it to payroll or HR, that keeping my manager posted was enough. Even in this environment, many chose to work sick. We were mostly Type A folks who liked and were committed to our jobs and careers. I even worked somewhat sick myself at times.

My perspective changed forever in one day. A couple of years into this position, a colleague with a newborn moved into the cube "next door". His manager chose to work sick and did nothing to mitigate her contact with him. She held meetings in her office. She used his pens (and returned them). She even used his computer at his desk. After the last incident, he was out for a week. He told me the day he returned that he'd had to take his infant son to the ER for a multi-day stay because his son had a upper respiratory virus. His infant son and his wife had not left the house since their son was born. Thus it was highly unlikely his son was exposed directly to the virus. It would seem highly likely that my colleague inadvertantly carried some germs home with him, courtesy of his manager. Not surprisingly, my colleague was not happy with his manager and a little bemused with himself.

I'm am now a Mom of a two year old. I no longer work, but am busy taking my child to playdates, library story times, swim class, birthday parties, etc. I am surprised to find that many parents take contagious children to these activites. What is confounding is that no one has a paycheck depending on these activities. Additionally, most Moms know ahead of time that there will be infants present and still choose to bring sick children to participate. More importantly, most Moms know that a sick infant often means a trip to the ER.

Lastly, I think some some parents are taking away inadequate information from their pediatricians. In the last month alone, I've had three friends tell me their child's not contagious because their fever is gone. It seems that their doctors failed to mention or the parents forgot that their child's toys that have been chewed on, sneezed on, drooled on etc., during said fever, can carry the virus for days if not weeks.

So, in conclusion, let's all wash our hands, stay home when contagious and try to share our talents, our friendship and fun, but not our germs.
lovely thought...try being a doctor and taking a sick day. we're only allowed to treat patients, not actually get sick ourselves!!
Quite simple actually. Interested in remaining employed? Suck it up and drag yourself to work, management doesn't want to hear your sob story. Sick days are for slackers.
Germ exposure is part of our lifes. The key is to moderate hte exposure where possible especially with good hygiene. I use a hand sanitizer and a nasal sanitizer (Nozin). Since most germs infect us through the nose, good hygiene there can help prevent germs from infecting us. Also, try not to touch your nose after your touch a door knob!
I don't go to work if I am sick.

I also don't get sick days paid or unpaid at my job. I just chose the right thing to do for my health and others.

However, most of my co-workers come to the job even when they are very ill. That is a problem.
At my company, we do get 5 'sick days' every year, but the company actively keeps track of 'unscheduled absences', and peons are subject to disciplinary action (even if sick day use is less than the annual allotment.) So, if we need to take a sick day, I suppose we're supposed to let the boss know a week in advance?
College students often get the short end of the stick as well. In classes where attendance matters (or if you're sick during finals) many professors require a note from a doctor showing you were sick and how sick you were. So instead of being laid up in bed and sleeping to get better faster, when you wake up and feel horrible, you need to seek out a doctor who will give you a note that "proves" you were ill that day. Try doing that in upstate NY in the winter. Atrocious.
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