How do I handle employees who attend work while unwell?

Clearly I am concerned about their wellbeing but I also wish to ensure that illness does not spread throughout the rest of the business and impact other workers.

There are often discussions regarding the implications that employee absenteeism has on businesses, yet what is rarely considered are the negative effects that sickness presenteeism can have on productivity in the workplace. We are all human, and therefore vulnerable to getting sick, but despite this, the world refuses to stop and the need to attend work continues. As a result of this employees tend to let their health take and back seat, which in the long term can have serious consequences for both the individual and the company they work for.

Employees who come to work sick may be present in body, but are often absent in mind. This level of disengagement from work can lead to employees performing below par, thus not attaining the usual standards that their employers have come to expect of them. If employees feel as though their employers demonstrate a lack of concern for their health and wellbeing, then coming to work will feel more like a chore, thus reducing employees’ levels of job satisfaction. It is therefore important, as an employer to take proactive steps to intervene and help tackle the issue before it escalates.

If you recognise this as a problem in your organisation, then one of the first actions you can employ is the introduction of a workplace presenteeism policy, outlining where the company stands on employees coming into work sick. This should help employees understand, under what conditions they should stay at home, for example if their illness could impede productivity by causing widespread sickness in the work environment.  In such circumstances, where possible, you should give the option for employees to work from home and communicate via email or phone.

Taking note of employee health and wellbeing may also involve introducing a healthier lifestyle in the workplace. This may range from encouraging employees to take the stairs instead of lifts to more progressive type activities, for example lunch time or post work fitness classes. Not only will this help boost staff morale and motivation, but it will also encourage employees to take their own health more seriously, which in turn could help decrease the level of sickness they experience.

Additionally, ensuring that workplace common areas and facilities are kept clean is equally important. This may sound obvious, but if office cleanliness is not properly maintained germs can spread like wildfire. Try educating your employees through the use of posters, which will serve as reminders as to why personal and office hygiene is vital.

Sickness presenteeism can be a real cause for concern for employers, impacting a how a business is run and its financial wellbeing. It is important, therefore to implement a strategy that encourages a healthy workplace culture. As a result, you will see the benefits of a more productive and efficient working environment, in addition to employees who happy and more engaged in their roles. 

David Price is managing director of Health Assured.

Further reading on staff wellbeing

David Price

David Price

David Price is CEO of Health Assured, a part of the Peninsula Group.

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Managing Staff

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