A new study by Staples tells us that 90 percent of the American workforce admits to coming into work when they are not only feeling under the weather, but know they are contagious. Contagious people in the office mean, of course, that more germs are being spread around, and it undoubtedly increases the number of people who get sick.
I am, of course, part of the 90 percent. I work from home now, but when I worked in an office, unless I was on death's door, I was in the office. My company had a generous sick leave policy of up to three days in a row without a doctor's note, as often as needed throughout the year, fully paid, for all exempt employees. By 2004 high speed internet connections were available from home, and I could do 90 percent of my job from my home. I still came in.
So did my boss, my coworkers and the people in the neighboring departments. Everyone did. People did stay home with their sick kids. That meant they got infected, and when their kids were better the infected parent would come to work and share the germs. Lovely.
In today's technologically advanced world, there is little need for office workers to be physically in their cubes while sick. (This, of course, doesn't apply to work areas where physical presence is required.) We'd all be a lot less sick if we stayed home when we were sick. (And washed our hands, computer keyboards, tablets, smart phones, and wiped down the tables and door knobs.)
So, what can you, as a business owner, do to cut own on illness in the office?
Stay home when you are sick.
Yep. If the big boss says, "I have the flu, so I'll be out of the office for the next three days," it will influence others to do the same.
Encourage people to stay home when sick.
Yes, sometimes people lie about being sick. And you probably don't want to be so encouraging that people stay home every time they have a sore throat or stub their big toes, but you need to create a work environment where it's okay to stay home when you are sick.
I don't expect you to cultivate an environment where it's considered okay to not even check your email while sick. (Although, occasionally you and your employees will get hit with an illness that prevents employees from even doing that.) If you've hired good, hard workers, they will bust their sickly buns to get their work done, even if it's done while wearing a bathrobe and subsisting on tea and pseudoephedrine.
If you have an employee that seems to need to stay home and not lift a finger with any little sniffle, deal with that employee directly. Otherwise, you should cultivate an environment that covers three levels of sickness:
1. Mild cold means you still come into the office.
2. Sickness that you can work through means you work from home and do your best, with the understanding that people won't be putting in full days.
3. Serious illness that requires bedrest with no work means that your employees take the time they need to get better.
And then you demonstrate this by following these guidelines yourself, and paying for a reasonable amount of sick days. (And not docking sick days or vacation or paid-time-off when people work from home while they are sick. Remember that all non-exempt employees must still record their time, regardless of whether they are sitting in the office or on their living room couches.)
The end result? Fewer germs in the office, which will mean fewer sick days needed overall. A win for everyone.
Be part of the 10 percent who stay home while sick.