Forget 'Butts in Seats' - Send Sick Workers Home

Posted by Brandon Carter on Nov. 14, 2017

If there's one thing many managers love, it's butts in seats.

You know, people in the office, at their desks, happily working. Like a big family!

Nothing wrong with that. It's hard not to love the energy of a busy and buzzing office.

But, as the weather cools down and the seasons change, butts in seats isn't always good.

In fact, sick butts in seats are an outright hazard.A report from March 2016 says that three million people come to work sick each week. These sickos share their illnesses with colleagues, who also keep showing up.

This is how your office turns into a Burning Man-style party for this year's strain of influenza.

sicksicksick.gifHere's the real issue.

Yes, the employees are responsible for this.

But you, manager and/or company policy-setter, are just as guilty

Your employees will keep coming into the office when they're sick because they're worried about losing their jobs or falling behind.

Some would rather fight through it than waste a day of precious PTO.

Showoffs will come in because they really like their jobs and want you to see how awesome they are.

The first two reasons are policy related and can be addressed through company rules. The second is something managers need to learn to discourage.

Four Ways to Keep Sick Employees Out of the Office (And What to do with the Ones Who Insist on Coming In)

1. Craft a Sick Leave Policy

If employee-induced plagues are costing companies billions of dollars, it's probably worth building a specific policy around what's expected of sick employees. 

It isn't enough to just offer sick days or blanket PTO. Your policy needs to emphasize that sick employees MUST NOT come in the office. If they're coughing, feverish, achy, and anything else that looks like it's even going to turn into sickness, they gotta stay out.

43 million private sector workers have no sick days (National Partnership for Women & Families

One way to craft a policy that won't seem harsh or overbearing is to allow employees the option to work from home on sick days. The goal is preventing the spread of illness, and employees who are able to perform their functions from home without using a PTO day will be inclined to err on the cautious side when their throats get a little scratchy.

That's a good thing.

2. Have Managers Reiterate the Policy

You can build the best sick worker policy in the world, but employees still may not pay any attention to it.

You know who's going to make them pay attention and follow the rules?

30% of managers say they proactively encourage the employees they manage to take time off work for preventive care appointments (Zocdoc)

That's right. Managers make the world go round for employees. When the boss says to do something, most employees will do it. 

Even better, when the boss takes time off for being sick, the employees will follow suit. 

Dealing with sickness has to start from the top. Employees will only take this seriously if their boss emphasizes it and lives it.

80% of employees feel more comfortable taking time off if a manager encouraged them (Namely)

3. Make Prevention Part of Your Wellness Efforts

sickatwork1.gifYou know what helps keep sickness out of an office?

Not getting sick in the first place. 

Use your health and wellness efforts to promote prevention and get employees involved with their peers.

Host an onsite flu shot clinic. Hand out care packages with boxes of tissues and some vitamin C tablets. Offer a lunch-and-learn about when and how to book preventative appointments.

86% of employees admitted they would cancel or reschedule a booked preventive care appointment due to workplace pressures (Zocdoc)

It's important to make prevention part of the community, as our office peers play a major role in personal motivation.

86% of employees ranked their colleagues as one of the top motivators to improving their overall health and well-being at work, 57% cited their direct manager (Welltok)

4. Make Offsite Accommodations

61% of employees say their direct manager is supportive of flexible work arrangements (Mercer)

We touched on it in point one, but it bears emphasizing. If you want employees who are only "kinda sick" to stay away, you need to give them options that don't involve burning a vacation day. 

If possible, make arrangements for them to work at home. Yes, managers love butts in seats, but the overall health of the office and even personal productivity take priority over that.

This isn't possible for many businesses such as retail operations. In that case, you might be asked to be the bad guy and send employees home when they show up ill. Try to make it more palatable to them by offering an optional additional shift or even a few hours of time-and-a-half.

Yes, you'll be bribing workers to go home. It'll still cost less than half of your staff coming down with the same infection a week later.

5. Make Onsite Accommodations

So what do you do when a sick worker shows up and won't leave?

You can threaten them. Or fire them. Those are a bit drastic, though, for an employee who just wants to do their job.

You can allow them to work as normal, but then you risk infecting everyone else.

Another option? Quarantine!

That's a harsh, clinical way of saying to keep an office on hand where employees can close a door and get their work done. 

Yes, this is a luxury most companies can't offer. It's a valuable last resort, though, if you can make the arrangements.

Just be sure to scrub the room down and drop a Lysol bomb when the sick employee leaves.

Go Home, You Buncha Sickos!

As much as everyone loves butts in seats, sick butts should stay home. For their sake, and the sake of the office.

Get your managers to set the example and make prevention part of your culture. When you can, be flexible and allow sick workers to do their jobs at home or on a different shift.

Even better, encourage sick employees to take the day and heal.

Sick employees are bound to be less productive (and resentful), so agree to call it a day and rest to be doubly productive tomorrow.

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(icons courtesy of Sean MacEntee)

Topics: Employee Engagement + Loyalty

Brandon Carter

Written by Brandon Carter

Brandon is a former writer and marketer for Access Development. He's a frequent blogger on customer and employee engagement & loyalty, consumer trends, and branding. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter at @bscarter