Employers don’t see coughs and colds as acceptable excuses for absence

Small business bosses are dubious that coughs and colds warrant time off, research finds.

Nearly six out of ten (58 per cent) managers of British SMEs say productivity suffers when unwell employees show up to work and try to soldier on, according to a study by AXA PPP healthcare.

Yet, with minor illnesses such as coughs and colds accounting for one in five sickness absence days, fewer than a quarter (24 per cent) of SME managers believe that they are sufficiently serious to warrant taking time off work sick.

Just 41 per cent reckon flu is a serious enough reason for work absence.

Dr Yousef Habbab, medical director for health services at AXA PPP healthcare says, ‘Losing employees to coughs and colds is a perennial problem. While they are generally self-limiting and short-term, the severity of seasonal viruses can vary and at their worst they can knock us for six. And, when this happens, we shouldn’t be afraid to take time to recover or, if necessary, see a doctor – especially if it’s a more serious condition such as flu which triggers breathing difficulties.’

The research also indicates that digital healthcare could be a boost for sick workers, with SME managers agreeing that online access to doctors’ appointments would reduce employees’ time out of the office (44 per cent), reduce presenteeism (16 per cent) and boost productivity (15 per cent).

Dr Habbab adds, ‘It is discouraging that people who are genuinely sick are turning up for work and this isn’t helped by some bosses’ scepticism that coughs, colds and even flu warrant time off work. Employers who build a positive, supportive workplace culture and make sure their people know it’s acceptable to take time off when they’re unwell should be confident that their employees will repay and not misuse their trust.

‘It’s encouraging, however, that employers acknowledge the potential value to their people and to their business of digitally-enabled healthcare for quick, convenient access to medical information and care – and a timely return back to health and back to work.’

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