Employer Tips for Dealing with Illness in the Office

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Posted by: CMR September 12, 2023 No Comments

With all the attention on return to office policies, employers should reassure workers that they can stay home if need be, especially as cold and flu season approaches. 

Despite an increase in attention to wellness, the majority of employees are still struggling with the notion of taking time off for an illness, according to a recent survey by BambooHR. Almost 90% have worked while sick over the past year, with 15% saying they don’t ever miss work while ill. Moreover, one in four say they have been pressured or outwardly asked to work while sick. 

When it comes to employee sick leave, employers must follow any existing state or municipal guidelines about time off, but can gain a competitive edge by going beyond the bare minimum with their approach (as well as help avoid an office outbreak), says Anita Grantham, head of HR at BambooHR. In addition to paid sick days available, ongoing communication and personal examples can help managers set the tone for how time off for illness is handled. 

Grantham shares four ways leadership can make it known that when it comes to their workforce, employee health comes first.

 1. Take the stress out of sick leave

Having a clear policy in place can help put employees at ease when they can’t make it into the office, Grantham says. Forty percent of employees said they feel stressed over requesting time off for illness, 39% said it makes them feel anxious, and 17% go as far as to say it makes them feel fearful, according to the survey.

To further put employees in a good place should they need to be absent, Grantham makes sure to add “just in case” time to everyone’s deadlines and consistently checks in with her team to make sure things are on track. She also recommends having a backup employee who can step in at times when a coworker is unexpectedly out.

“Sports teams do this all the time — why don’t we do it in the workplace?” she says. “It creates opportunity for growth and movement and should be baked in to your normal leadership practice.”

 2. Set a good example: Stay home

A well-prepared team will still function, and will gain an appreciation for their leader’s view on taking necessary time off to recover before returning to work, says Grantham. 

Interestingly, HR professionals feel a heightened sense of guilt over calling out of work, with nearly 60% saying it makes them feel emotionally compromised, according to the BambooHR survey. Leaders at all levels should know they have their company’s blessing to be away from the office while ill.

“You have to have a good policy, but you have to have leaders who demonstrate that policy,” Grantham says. “If leaders are coming to work sick and they’re engaging on a call sick, then their team is going to do the same. That’s my biggest message for leaders: Our policies are worthless if you’re not using them yourself.

3. Make health a workplace-wide conversation

An ongoing focus on health and wellness is a great way to promote year-long, peer-to-peer communication about healthy practices, not only about avoiding illness, but other topics such as mental wellness and preventative care, Grantham says. She points to ways that coworkers can be given convenient ways to seek care that promote camaraderie, such as mobile flu, mammogram and blood drive trucks at the office.  

“We did a mobile blood drive in conjunction with Halloween and a trunk or treat [where they could bring] their kids after,” she says. “We have funny, quirky signs about washing your hands in our bathrooms and in town halls and all hands meetings [there are] reminders about everybody staying well in the upcoming week.”

Grantham also encourages leaders to appoint someone from the company to reach out to those who are on sick or medical leave, especially if it is known they will be out for an extended period of time. This creates a high-touch, confidential path inside the organization that gives employees peace of mind and makes them feel supported, she says.

4. Give employees anonymity and necessary time to recover

Three-quarters of employees agree they should have the right to privacy when it comes to why they call out sick, according to BambooHR. This is especially important now, as 47% put mental health in the sick leave category. 

During the time they are absent, employees should be allowed to disconnect from work to ensure an opportunity for rest and recovery, says Grantham. 

“Privacy is really important; where I see people get in trouble with this is they feel scared or unsure and they don’t communicate,” she says. “Leaders don’t need to ask all the questions, they need to be respectful. We’re just helping people through the human experience — this is what caring for people looks like.”

Article Published By: BenefitNews.com

Article Written By: Lee Hafner, Editor

Author: CMR

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