The Flu is Everywhere! So… How Do You Get Employees to Take a Sick Day?

Why Coming to Work Sick is a Bigger Issue Than Just the Flu

The flu is bad this year, there is no doubt about it. Bloomberg reported that the influenza virus has sickened millions of Americans this season, and is already the most widespread outbreak since public health authorities began keeping track more than a dozen years ago.

Health officials have reported that “this is the first year we’ve had the entire continental US at the same level (of flu activity) at the same time.” It has been an early flu season that seems to be peaking now, with a 5.8% increase in laboratory-confirmed cases this week over last. There were 11,718 new laboratory-confirmed cases during the week ending January 6, bringing the season total to 60,161.

Yikes! So — this means employees should know to stay home, right?

Unfortunately, no. A survey conducted by Wakefield Research found that 62% of American workers have gone to work sick. For some, the choice is losing pay or coming to work. More than 40 million people (four in 10 private-sector employees) and seven in ten low-wage employees don’t have access to paid sick days, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

But even American workers who are offered paid sick days don’t always take them. Only 16% of employees used all of their paid sick days in the past year , according to a July 2016 survey by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The reasons vary as to why workers didn’t use all of their paid sick leave: roughly 73% said they weren’t sick enough, 37% wanted to save them for another time, 28% said there was no one to cover their workload, 20% claimed that they had too much work to complete and 20% said not taking time off would help them get ahead.

Sound familiar?

Then, how do you get employees to take sick days? Here are a few ideas:

1. Don’t just have a sick policy, promote a sick policy: With many of the clients we work with, they have “unlimited vacation policies”, or in other words, “empower” employees to take time off when they need it. Unfortunately, in line with some of the statistics above, employees are not taking off time to take care of themselves and prevent others from getting sick, for a myriad of reasons. Make clear your policy, and promote it, especially when people are getting sick. Remind employees that this sick leave can be used to rest, take time for a doctors appointment, pick up prescriptions, etc. And of course, allow people to work from home, wherever possible.

2. Empower managers to make the right call: Employees won’t stay home, if they don’t feel they can. Creating an encouraging environment means that the company’s leaders and managers have to communicate proactively to all the employees that if they are sick it’s ok to stay home, says Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half International, who was interviewed on the topic recently. “Leaders and managers need to reinforce the message either in meetings, teleconferences, email or in the internal blog,” says McDonald. “The company has to make sure the message is repeated on an ongoing basis.” The heads of the company also have to practice what they preach, which means if they are ill they too must stay home.

3. Make leadership have a contingency plan for flu season: A common concern that leads to many sick people coming into the office is the simple question of, “Who will do my work?”. Wherever possible, partner people of similar positions to know what would be needed to cover for someone in the short term. As it’s safe to assume a few folks will get sick at any given time, managers should know in advance what resources are at their disposal. Be proactive and make sure there’s a backup plan, so if someone is out, someone else can pick up the slack.The more confident a person feels their work will get done, the more likely they are to disconnect and take the rest needed to return at 100%.

4. Highlight medical support options, especially the easy ones: In a study from Zocdoc Millennials, in particular, avoid the doctor the most, with 93% avoiding scheduling medical appointments. Over half of millennials 51% also reported visiting a doctor less than once a year. With statistics like that, it doesn’t seem likely that people will jump at the opportunity to head to the doctor for the first time, starting this flu season. Yet, Millenials are more likely to use technology to help. Highlighting your carrier plans’ telehealth options that can be done without leaving the house or office, such as nurselines, doctor video visits, chat features, and more — are great ways to engage people to ask the questions needed to determine whether it’s safe to go into/stay at work, or confirm with certainty that it’s time for some medication and rest.

Do you have any great tips for how you get your employees or coworkers to stay at home when they are sick?

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