Lovewell’s logic: Knowing when to throw in the towel

Debbie Lovewell Tuck Editor Employee BenefitsHow unwell do you have to feel before you call in sick to work? Presenteeism has always presented something of a conundrum for employers, as it can be tricky to assess which individuals really should not be working when relying solely on their word.

While all organisations want to build an engaged, committed workforce, this can sometimes go too far when some employees insist on working even if they are not well enough to do so. Most of us will use common sense to determine whether we feel up to working with a minor cough or a cold, but others will take this to the extreme and push themselves to soldier on. Anecdotally, I once witnessed a fellow manager having to deal with an employee who was adamant that they were fine to work in an office environment despite actively suffering from a vomiting bug.

At the other end of the spectrum, meanwhile, are individuals who are happy to call in sick for minor sniffles which may not affect their ability to work, particularly if they are able to do so from home.

Managing the challenge of presenteeism also now has an added dimension in the age of hybrid and remote working when less visible individuals may not choose to disclose that they are unwell. This can be tricky, as without a commute or the risk of infecting colleagues, ailing employees may well consider themselves fit for work even if this is far from the case. When faced with a long to-do list, client commitments, financial pressures and looming deadlines, it may seem logical to push on without thinking about the impact of doing so.

In fact, research published by Bluecrest Wellness last work found that 76% of respondents had worked while unwell in the past year. The main reasons for doing so were feeling like they couldn’t let their team down (48%), they couldn’t afford not to (38%) or they felt under pressure from their employer to do so (19%).

Working while under the weather, however, can have significant ramifications for both the individual and their employer. As well as lengthening an individual’s recovery, continuing to work while unwell can also adversely affect productivity and performance. For example, Bluecrest’s research also found that more than a quarter said they were not themselves when dealing with colleagues, 17% were not themselves when dealing with customers and 15% made mistakes when working while unwell.

So, how can employers encourage employees to admit when they need to take time off to recover and remove potential barriers to them doing so?

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Debbie Lovewell-Tuck
Tweet: @DebbieLovewell