Presenteeism a costly practice

Dear Working Wise: Are there any rules of thumb around coming to work sick? It’s flu season and I’m always on my guard to try and stay healthy, but many of my co-workers come in to work sick — putting me at risk.

Dear Working Wise: Are there any rules of thumb around coming to work sick? It’s flu season and I’m always on my guard to try and stay healthy, but many of my co-workers come in to work sick — putting me at risk.

I’m especially concerned with this year with the H1N1 influenza pandemic making its rounds. What can I do? — Sick of Selfish Co-workers

Dear Sick: Yes, many people go to work sick despite the risk of infecting others. There’s even a name for it: presenteeism.

A recent survey by OfficeTeam found that four out of 10 professionals admitted to coming to work sick very frequently (

Your co-workers are likely coming to work sick because they don’t want to let the team down — but as you have pointed out, they’re putting the rest of the team at risk.

Staying home when you are sick protects your co-workers, helps you get better faster and saves your employer money by preventing other workers from getting sick.

You can help protect yourself by washing your hands frequently, keeping your unwashed hands away from your mouth, nose and eyes, avoiding close contact with ill co-workers, and being mindful when using shared office items like telephones, keyboards, calculators, whiteboards or kitchen items.

You might want to keep a bottle of hand sanitizer close by and possibly some disinfectant wipes so you can quickly clean shared items. Viruses can survive for up to 48 hours on hard surfaces, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Other things you can do to protect yourself include getting immunized and improving your resilience by ensuring you are eating healthy, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly.

You might also want to raise your concern with your supervisor and explain that presenteeism is likely costing the company money. Studies show that presenteeism costs companies more money than paid sick days.

Your supervisor may not know how common the problem is. Another OfficeTeam survey found that only 17 per cent of executives thought that their staff were coming into work very frequently when sick.

Your supervisor can do a lot to set the expectations around what all employees should do when they are sick, including:

•Ask staff to stay home until they feel well or are no longer contagious.

•Reassure staff not to feel guilty about staying home and remind them that they are protecting their teammates and saving the company money.

•Ask staff to use polite respiratory etiquette, including coughing or sneezing into their arms instead of into their hands.

•Develop alternative working arrangements (e.g., working from home for times when the team is under tight deadlines).

•Ensure all staff are cross-trained so staff can cover for one another.

•Most importantly, managers can set a good example by modeling these behaviours, including staying home when they are sick.

Finally, you might want to tell your supervisor about the influenza pandemic planning resources available at These documents can help business leaders prepare for a potential pandemic and answer practical questions around issues such a sick leave, compassionate leave, and exceptions to the Employment Standards code during a pandemic.

For more information on influenza, including symptoms and self-care, visit

To find an influenza vaccination clinic near you, visit:

Working Wise is compiled weekly by Charles Strachey, a regional manager with Alberta Employment and Immigration. Work-related questions can be sent to him at Working Wise is provided for general information only. Help with specific situations is available through Alberta Employment Standards by calling 1-877-427-3731.

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