An early uptick in the number of flu cases has many workers feeling particularly vulnerable. Why? Because they try to keep themselves safe from contracting a viral illness amid the pressure of finally returning to the office. However, the chances of picking up a bug have skyrocketed in recent weeks. According to a Gartner survey of 240 HR leaders, 36% of have called workers back to the office at least three days a week beginning September. That figure is up 25% from the previous month. Caroline Walsh, a Gartner VP, says this continues to be the trend despite their data not showing remote work harming performance or culture.
Fears of a looming recession may also compound the pressure to return to the office. That is especially true amid high inflation and a volatile stock market. Amid such a bleak economic backdrop, workers may feel like they have no choice but to come to work sick or risk losing their jobs as companies push for greater productivity to ride out an unstable market through to the end of the year. These circumstances look to erase the gains made in the workplace since the pandemic rewrote the rules for calling in sick. While Covid 19 finally made it okay to prioritize health over productivity, returning to pre-pandemic practices doesn’t mean we have to go back to the misguided heroics of fighting through sickness to work. To prevent this flu season from being one of the worst in recent years, workers’ health should be the priority.
For one, working while sick is actually counterproductive. If showing up to work means the job assigned to you gets done, being present at the office at a reduced capacity doesn’t guarantee that the work is up to standard. You won’t have to do it again. Substandard work equals less productivity. Furthermore, physical presence does not always mean productivity. Not only does sickness affect levels of quality, but it also lengthens recovery time, keeping workers from coming back healthy in as little time as possible. If bosses force employees to fight through their sickness, the time they could’ve used to rest and recover exacerbates their illness even more.
Not to mention that showing up to work at a time when flu cases are at an all-time high. A long list of viral illnesses is circulating in the environment is, at best irresponsible and, at worst, downright selfish, with little regard for the welfare of others. We never know what our colleagues are going through health wise. You don’t know if they or their loved ones are immunocompromised. Plus, you don’t know if they go home to families who could be particularly vulnerable to diseases. By exposing ourselves to the workplace in such a condition, we are putting more than our coworkers at risk. Plus, we are putting the lives of their loved ones on the line.
Leaders also have a vital role in ensuring that their workforce remains healthy and productive. Providing a meaningful amount of paid sick leave should be a top priority. That goes double as we enter an awful flu season. The potential for contracting illnesses in the workplace or bringing viruses in and spreading them around is at an all-time high. However, paid time off is considered a luxury. In fact, 1 in 5 employees don’t have access to it. That is especially true for those considered low-wage workers. For those who do have this benefit, managers should encourage their subordinates to use those PTOs. Knowing that their managers are supportive of their health allows workers to focus on recovery without fear of losing their jobs due to absences.
Another way managers can take the lead in preventing significant loss in productivity due to illness is to take time off themselves. As leaders, they set the expectations for good self-care in the workplace. They must show workers that you aren’t invincible yourself. Plus, you should know when to pull back will permit everyone else to do the same. Good managers know that productivity is all about keeping workers at peak performance. If that means allowing everyone, including themselves, to take a day or two off to recover, everyone in the office will be all the better.
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