Raise your hand if your pet hate is seeing your co-workers coming to work sick? Boy, that’s a lot of hands. So why do we do it?

Employers love workers who show up to work, regularly. They do not like workers who are frequently absent and ultimately unproductive and costly. This is not a secret. So when you wake in a less than ideal condition, you feel the pressure of your employer beckoning you to throw off the covers and get ready for another day at the office. Yet while you may trudge through the door and find your way to your desk, are you really present?

It’s a catch twenty-two. You’re at work, you’re going through the motions, but in reality you are costing the company. How? Productivity is below par, errors are on the rise and germs are spreading like wildfire. Imagine an office of twenty people where twenty-five percent of the workforce is now sharing your bug. That’s a quarter of the workforce under performing. Compare that to just five percent, or one person out-of-office, for three days only, in recovery mode. That’s a lot better than the potential of 15 days of lost production should all sick workers come to their senses, visit the doctor and take a few days of prescribed bed rest. The anxiety surrounding taking a ‘sickie’ is high, but even higher is the organisational cost of ‘presenteeism’.

Fact; the amount of productivity lost due to presenteeism is three times higher than taking sick days.

Key variables making so many of you afraid to stay home when unwell is the high demands of your job, stress if you don’t deliver on your targets and job insecurity. That little voice in your head is telling you that you need to stay home, but the echo of your boss’ voice reverberating in your mind can be all too loud and override what common sense is telling you. So whether your feelings of harassment or discrimination for taking time off are perceived or not, you feel your levels of apprehension rising. And that’s not a great result when you’re already unwell.

The best advice is to stay home when you first detect the onset of illness. Nipping the problem in the bud early will generally help you to avoid feeling dreadful should you resist and push the limits. Yes, I am a mum and I am sharing with you my very wise motherly advice. But this is a sticking point for many – Am I really sick enough to stay home? You know your body best, and generally you know that if you force yourself through one more day, you will regret it for the next sniffling week. Of course if you’re vomiting it’s a no brainer, you’re not even going to contemplate crawling out of your pj’s. So you um and ah over whether or not you’re really that sick and if you are going to be labelled a fraud should you show up to work again after only one day off all sprite and bubbly. It is a problem that we all wrestle with when we know we are under the weather. Best to make a quick decision and inform the boss early that you will not be expected at work that day.

Now if you are a little on the light side with your sick leave, you’re probably going to take an aloof approach and happily bluff your way through the working day, not caring how many of your colleagues you infect – actually, the highly motivated workers can be guilty of this too! You will collect a full pay packet at the end of the week, but you will not win any friends at work. In fact, I have witnessed an all-out attack from workers when faced with a sick workmate who is content to persist in carrying out the functions of their role. And employers often do not intervene as they are glad their employee has shown up. Business will continue to move forward. Apparently. This is not a healthy scenario in any sense, and I wonder, who is the bully in this scenario; the sick worker, the disgruntled employees or the employer? An interesting question, but regardless of your opinion, there is dissension in the air!

If there is a stigma at your place of employment surrounding sick leave, what are you doing to reverse the shame workers feel if they take a day off? Do you have a wellness program in place that promotes a supportive environment if one should fall ill? Workplaces that invoke intense workloads, a lack of autonomy and job insecurity may be causing stress and burnout in their workforce, which of course leads to illness! The company culture could in fact be fuelling a vicious cycle. Policy can alter this.

While all of you desire to be viewed as a model employee, your work can consume you and make you far more ill than necessary. You could literally be working yourself to death!! Employers must create an environment where their employees’ well being is considered a high priority and summon commitment through compassion rather than fear. Now that’s a place that I would like to work.

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