How much does it cost your business when employees are off sick? Often, hardworking professionals feel guilty taking time off, but could it be harming your productivity just as much by going to the office when they’re not feeling 100 percent? Seb Atkinson blogs for Safety First Aid, covering health and safety for HR professionals, business owners and employees. Seb Atkinson blogs for Safety First Aid, covering health and safety for HR professionals, business owners and employees.
While absenteeism is reported to cost UK workplaces £8bn per year, this is dwarfed by a speculated £15bn cost for presenteeism, which is lost productivity when workers report to work but are unable to perform their best. Should employees be proud if they’ve never taken a day off sick, when in the process they’ve spread their illness to the entire office, decreasing productivity for everyone? As you’d expect, sick employees are a major culprit for bringing germs into the office. 92 percent of UK workers go to work when ill, with 12 percent even turning up when their boss has asked them to stay at home. The easiest way to catch an illness from a co-worker is by being around them. People with the flu can spread it to others within a 6 foot radius, and is highly contagious.
As a result, the more time you spend in the office with the flu, the greater the chance that your co-workers will get it too. Germs can spread indirectly too, any surface used by multiple people can become a carrier for the flu virus or harmful bacteria, including the office printer, the meeting room table or the conference room phone. Once you’ve picked up germs, your own desk is the perfect environment for them to multiply. The disturbing truth is that the area where you rest your hands on your desk is also home to around 10 million bacteria – 100 times more than a kitchen table and 400 times more than the average toilet seat. Desks rarely get cleaned as it’s down to employees to clean these areas, which can lead to lower standards of cleanliness.
Because of the risk of germs spreading it’s better to stay at home when you have the flu, rather than exposing all your co-workers to your germs. Effective hand sanitisation is the best place to start for preventing illness and limiting the spread of illnesses such as salmonella, MRSA, impetigo and flu. The easiest way to combat the spread of germs is by ensuring the soap and paper towel dispensers in the office bathrooms are well stocked so employees don’t skip washing their hands. As we’ve seen, cubicles are a breeding ground for bacteria, so it’s a good idea to ensure that employees have adequate sanitisation products to hand at their desks, such as anti-bacterial wipes, allowing employees to keep their workspaces clean and free from germs. Why not set up a weekly notification on your company’s calendar system to remind employees to clean their desks regularly?
Despite all these reasons why you should stay at home while sick, the truth is that many workers pressure themselves into attending. Despite 88 percent of managers encouraging employees to stay at home, 60 percent still go to work, according to Redshift Research. Of these, 48 percent felt pressured to tough it out, 31 percent thought their boss would appreciate them coming in, and 40 percent believed there was too much work on for them to stay at home. For dedicated employees, taking sick leave can lead to feelings of guilt that they’re letting the team down or creating more work for when they return. To stop the spread of illness to other team members and reducing overall productivity, a good strategy is to make it part of the company policy to encourage employees to stay at home when sickness strikes. Giving staff access to the company network remotely then allows employees to work if they wish – while they won’t be as productive as usual, they won’t spread germs. Have you seen the effects of presenteeism on your team? Do you feel guilty taking time off when you’re sick? Let us know in the comments below!