You wake up to your alarm with a pounding headache, a stuffy nose, and you feel like an elephant is sitting on your chest. You audibly moan, grudgingly admitting to yourself that you’re sick, and yet you still drag yourself out of bed, into a hot shower, and out the door at 8 AM for your regularly scheduled work day. By 10 AM, you’re sitting at your desk staring at the same email you’ve been attempting to compile for the last hour wondering why you didn’t decide to use up one of those “sick” days your company has so graciously gifted to you.
According to a labor statistics survey, “one in five American workers under age 45 took no sick days-and of those who did, nearly 60 percent took fewer than five days off in 2017.”
Those are alarming statistics, considering the state of the world currently. As of January 18, 2020, there have been 15 million cases of the flu. That’s in addition to the now widespread novel coronavirus swiftly making its way across the globe.
So, what is this culture of not utilizing sick days and why do Americans feel compelled to show up to work sneezing and stuffed up, at the expense of their health and the potential health of those around them? And how can companies encourage employees to use up this time without making them feel guilty? Perhaps this would be a good time for your company to reevaluate your sick day policy.
Let’s make 2020 the year of health, and to do that, consider implementing a few of these strategies:
1. Develop a supportive sick day company policy: Right off the bat, make sure you have built in language that screams supportive when it comes to employees taking sick time. Employees won’t feel comfortable taking a sick day if they think they will be judged or if it will reflect poorly on their commitment to their jobs. Explain to them why sick days are in place and that your company encourages the use of sick days. Rather than just telling your employees how many sick days they are allotted, make sure they know the why behind it, and that the why directly correlates to a caring and supportive company culture.
2. Standardize procedures and processes: Employees will oftentimes not take sick days because they feel they are the ones solely responsible for a process or procedure that is essential to the company functioning. Or, if they do take a sick day, they may feel compelled to work from home so their absence isn’t felt quite as much, rather than concentrating on actually resting and recovering. This type of mindset could result in more time away from work if that employee does not get better and ultimately is not an efficient business model.
Standardizing procedures and processes will help other employees pick up the slack if an employee is sick and at the same time, can help foster a culture of openness and inclusiveness. Ways to standardize office functions include developing office manuals and making sure these are readily accessible, having weekly status meetings, and encouraging employees to communicate with each other about their assignments.
3. Don’t lump all time off into one category: Sick days should be separate from personal days, and this is an important distinction. In doing so, you are communicating to the employee that you care just as much about he or she falling ill as you do about them being able to go on vacation or use a personal day for a parent teacher conference. This will also encourage employees to use the allotted time off for what it is intended for. Ultimately, this should help develop a mindset that sick days are acceptable and employees will feel more comfortable utilizing them.
Bottom line: every company’s end goal is the same — to increase productivity. How do you increase productivity? By focusing on employee happiness, and at the core of that is making sure employees put their health first and that means communicating to them that you also put their health first. Having a proactive sick day policy is just one way to achieve that.