How Employers Can Fight the Stigma of Taking Sick Days

May 3, 2017

First Stop Health

It always seems to happen: You have three big projects crossing over each other, a presentation, and barely enough time to get it all done in the work week. And then you feel a cold coming on. It’s not just the sniffles, or something you could push past, but a full-on head cold that has you feeling miserable in just a few short hours.

New research is showing us that there are two types of employees who choose to go to work when they’re actually too sick to be doing so:

  1. The employee who has no choice but to go to work, simply because the work has to be done by them today, or because they have no sick days left in the year.
  2. The employee who feels ill, but wants to prove they are going the extra mile for their job by coming into work even at their worst.

There’s a stigma around sick days: Unless we’re bedridden with no hope of staying awake or severely infectious, we should get to work.

Our jobs often demand our attention outside of working hours, and this has led us to think we need to be working even when we shouldn’t be.

When we expect excellence and efficiency from our employees, it’s no wonder this stigma has developed. But there are many reasons we, as employers, should be fighting this stigma to help our employees know when (and why) they should stay home when they are sick.

Even Minor Illnesses Spread Quickly

We’ve all had those days where we think we can push through a rough cold or the tail-end of a stomach flu, but the voice in our head says, “I hope no one around me gets sick....” We’re tempted to go to work, and we often do. But these minor coughs and colds spread rapidly to everyone around us. The drop in the pond is when we come in for an important meeting or to get some face time around our boss––but the ripple effect kicks in quickly as people in our department soon fall ill.

Colds and flus cramp productivity and can wipe out whole sections of employees who sit close together. And as this wave strikes, it can mark a whole month of various employees taking sick time, not to mention the effect on their family members.

The Flu Is Contagious At Its Onset

Even when an employee starts to feel just a little “off,” they may still feel pressure to come into work until they absolutely cannot stay any longer. But illnesses like the flu are actually just as contagious a day before and at their onsets as when we’re truly feeling sick!

This means it’s essential to rest when you’re sick, as you heal faster and give your body a break. You need to avoid contact with others even at the very beginning of an illness to prevent spreading it.

By educating our employees about this and encouraging them to take sick days –– even if sickness hasn’t totally taken over their life yet –– we can combat the idea that this time off is only to be used in extreme cases or that taking sick days will compromise how they are viewed by colleagues and their supervisors.

How Can Employers Fight the Stigma?

If you haven’t yet, take a proactive stance on being open about sick days. Implore your employees to be honest with themselves when they start to feel ill, and consider implementing an unlimited sick day policy. It may not be worth it to count sick days, after all, if you can improve your overall employee wellness.

Dr. Mark Friedman, an emergency physician and a co-founder of First Stop Health, also makes a good point that we cannot ignore about employee health and productivity: “If your employee has just spent the whole night in the emergency department, how effective will he be at work the next day?” You need to be the driving force behind a culture shift in your company, and that begins by being non-judgemental when your employees call in sick.

Encourage employee wellness by emphasizing productivity and outwardly supporting your staff when they need to take time off.

The Diagnosis

It’s no surprise that the cost of seeing a doctor and paying for urgent care visits is one barrier to employees using their sick days. It seems the odds are stacked against them: Healthcare is expensive, and the stigma around using paid sick leave makes them want to come to work ill instead.

By providing employee health benefits like telemedicine, you are one step closer to helping your staff live the healthy, stable lives they need to be productive at work. You’re providing them access to a doctor at their fingertips for diagnosis and treatment and easing the financial burden of seeing a doctor––and you’re also showing how you support their choice to get healthy before they return to the office.

All in all, you’re helping them heal faster so they can get back to work!

To learn more about how implementing telemedicine drives cost savings for your company while making your staff more effective and efficient, download our free guide: A Buyer's Guide to Telemedicine Services for Employers.

Originally published May 3, 2017 3:05:00 PM.