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After a New York Times article proclaimed "The Death of the Sick Day," many readers described their own experiences of working while sick. While not a scientifically collected sample, the responses give important insights into the reasons why employees don't take time off from work:  they don’t want to burden their colleagues, be perceived as lazy or unreliable, or lose a day’s wages.

Readers also described work polices that facilitate recovery from illness without sacrificing productivity, and those that encourage working while sick (and potentially impaired).

On the positive side for employees:

  • Pooled sick leave, personal leave and vacation allows flexibility in how to employees manage their time off.
  • Telework options allow employees to work when they are physically but not mentally incapacitated.

On the negative side:

  • Workers without sick leave benefits may do whatever they can to avoid missing work, including working while sick.
  • Policies that make it difficult for employees to take leave when sick, including a requirement that employees obtain a doctor’s note or finding a substitute will most likely also result in employees working while ill.

The comments in the article cannot be taken as representative of all employees. However, the stories identify a few general themes that warrant further investigation. In fact, prior research from IBI suggests that employers with supportive work environments benefit from employee engagement, positive health outcomes, and improved productivity.

Unfortunately, illness happens. Ensuring that employees have the ability to recover may lead to better employee engagement and productivity in the long run.


Posted by Erin Peterson

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