Essential HR

Should you go to work when sick?

We’ve all seen it – a work mate coughing and sneezing at their desk or standing next to you in the factory.  Even when serving in a cafe!  Why?  Why do they risk spreading their germs and making us all sick? 

The answer may be obvious – if you have no paid sick leave owing, time off means simply no pay; and many people cannot afford that.  And this situation happens all too often: for a start anyone in their first 6 months of a job has no sick leave entitlement; and for those with young children who are made to stay home from school (even if just with a minor ailment), their 5 days sick leave each year disappears very quickly.  So employees become frustrated and employers cannot easily order someone to go home unless they pay them additional leave!

Business NZ working with Southern Cross have just issued their Wellness in the Workplace Survey 2017 and their statistics say 46% of workers will turn up to work when sick – and yet still 4½ days sick leave are taken per person each year.

So sickness and the law will continue to mean people turn up to work sick and continue the cycle; unless we can reduce the level of sickness!  And that’s the point: there are many things you can do to reduce the level of sickness requiring time off, and these apply to all sizes of business:

  • Try some basic healthy stuff – like a bowl of fresh fruit in the smoko room; paying for an annual flu jab; do some company fitness things – like lunchtime walks, one-on-one meeting walks or even organising the occasional weekend tramps.  The South Island is ideally suited to the outdoors, so it should be easy to find positively healthy things to do with work teams;
  • Be proactive and identify health risks so they can be minimised – use a local medical centre to provide basic health checks each year; and provide hand sanitizer in each workplace;
  • And where you are aware of possibly high levels of sick leave needs (such as a young family) put in place, if you can, a flexible working arrangement so that hours can be made up from home or at some other time, thus avoiding the pressure to come in when sick.

The important thing is to be open about health issues, to support one another in them, and make use of the great environment we have in our region.