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When it's time to call in sick

Workplace: Recent survey shows many people go to work even when under the weather

Posted: March 4, 2011 12:03 p.m.
Updated: March 4, 2011 12:03 p.m.

Once reserved for marriage vows, "in sickness and in health" is also a common workplace practice for a majority of employees, according to a survey conducted for Accountemps.

Three-quarters of employees, or 76 percent, admitted to going to work when feeling under the weather at least sometimes.

Accountemps, a temporary firm for accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals, developed the workplace survey.

An independent research firm conducted interviews with 437 workers 18 years of age or older, and employed in an office environment.

Exposure worries
Approximately one-third of workers interviewed said when a colleague comes in sick, they worry most about being exposed to his or her illness.

And only 8 percent of those surveyed said they are impressed by their coworker's dedication when colleagues come to work ill.

"Some professionals come into work sick thinking it shows dedication, and will impress their managers," said Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps. "But that's not necessarily the case."

For some companies, however, the reasons employees have for coming into work ill often have nothing to do with impressing co-workers, but instead are a necessity of life at a small business.

Beth Culhane, manager of retailer A Chorus Line, said if one of their employees calls in sick, then store managers have to find a way to cover the employee's shift to help customers.

And as a specialty retailer, it's not possible to rely on a temp firm to fill in the gaps of store coverage.

On the other hand, the retailer discourages employees from coming in to work ill.

"We don't employ a lot of people," Culhane said. "But we're really lucky that we don't have employees take advantage of calling in sick. They know we really need the help."

Colleagues aren't the only ones who wish their ailing coworkers would stay in bed, according to the survey. Half of employees said their managers encourage them to remain at home when they are unwell.

Only 11 percent of those surveyed felt their bosses discourage them from taking time off.

"Most people are well-intentioned," Messmer said. "They show up even when they aren't feeling well because they don't want to fall behind in their work or burden colleagues who cover for them."

However, sick employees risk spreading their illness to others and affecting the entire team, Messmer said.

When employees were asked how they felt about their coworkers coming into the office while sick, 65 percent of those surveyed said they were "concerned or worried" about being exposed to illness.

Manager's lead
Eleven percent of the survey respondents were discouraged altogether from staying home while sick.

Forty percent said their manager "somewhat or strongly" discourages them stay home when they are sick.

But perhaps indicative of companies being forced to survive in a recessionary market with lean staffs, a full 36 percent of those surveyed said their managers neither encouraged nor discouraged them from coming to work ill.

Almost half - 42 percent - of workers said they "very frequently" go to work when feeling sick.

Another 34 percent of workers said they go into work while ill "somewhat frequently."

"Employers should encourage staff to stay home if they are under the weather and provide tips on what employees can do to prevent the spread of illness in general," Messmer said.

While Messmer's advice may be well-intentioned, supplying temporary workers to businesses hit with staffing shortages also potentially benefits his firm.

That said, the advice to stay home while sick is one thing the medical community  as well as government agencies advise when viral or contagious diseases are spreading through communities.


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