Presenteeism puts the rest of the team at risk

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.

What can I do? — Sick of 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.

Even worse, most of us have done it in the last year. Nearly 80 per cent of Canadians said in a 2007 Decima Research survey that they went to work sick in the past year.

And with the recession, that number may be even higher. Some employees may have taken new jobs that do not offer sick benefits.

Others may be worried about letting the team down — especially with so many organizations running with fewer staff.

Your co-workers may be coming to work sick to show that they are team players, 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 actually costs 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.

An OfficeTeam survey found that only 17 per cent of executives thought that their staff were coming into work very frequently.

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 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., telecommuting for times when the team is under tight deadlines);

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

• Set a good example by modeling these healthy habits.

Working Wise is compiled by Charles Strachey of Alberta Employment and Immigration (charles.strachey@gov.ab.ca) for general information.