In the old days when people worked in offices, there was no choice: staying home was usually the best option when you were feeling ill. Now, though, people are always home whether they’re under the weather or not. So, should you still work from home when you’re sick?
Sick Day or Work Day?
When the pandemic changed the world and our way of life, many workplaces realized their employees could still attend to tasks when taking a sick day. After all, employees are still at their “workplace” when they’re ill nowadays. While it’s an eye-opening option, it raises a new question: when should a worker take actual sick leave? For some, a simple cold is enough. It’s irritating and distracting when trying to accomplish daily tasks when you have the sniffles. For others, even contracting COVID wasn’t a major problem in going about their usual routine. But, truth be told, both scenarios showcase an underlying issue — an overwhelming pressure to work. Data shows that two-thirds of American workers think remote work pressures people to work while sick.
It’s similar for other parts of the world, too. In the U.K., for example, there was an all-time low of sick leave taken in 2020. That said, the year marked the start of the worldwide pandemic, when most employees had just found out they could work from home. In 2021, the number grew again as coronavirus cases spread. But 2022 still isn’t showing the best results when it comes to people taking sick days. It’s starting to become a cultural norm to work from home on a sick day rather than taking a proper day off!
Work From Home Only When You Feel Like It
Even before the pandemic, people would come to work when they were feeling sick. But the possibility of sitting in front of your computer at home with no coworkers around to infect made it harder to decide when to actually take sick leave. “The boundaries, rules and structures which governed the way we thought about our work, in many cases, fundamentally changed,” said Brittany Lambert, an assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Now, employees think that they’re not worthy of an actual sick day when they have a simple cold. So, they continue to work from home. Greg Couser, an occupational medicine physician at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota said that companies should clarify what a real sick day is. “It seems like expectations in the workplace have changed, and I guess ground rules haven’t really been established yet,” he said.
Sadly, that can lead to severe health problems and mental burnout. “The crux of it all is that people aren’t going to get better, they’re going to get sicker, they’re going to get more stressed out and there’s going to be all sorts of consequences that we don’t even know about,” Couser explained. So, offices have to encourage employees to get sick leave for their own sake. That way, workers can feel comfortable with taking time off if they need it and not working when they need to rest.
In the end, managers should be responsible for communicating the right health and sick day culture to workers. “I think we’re in a period of recalibration and have a great opportunity to redefine what sick leave is — and could be — to better serve both organizations and the people who work for them,” Lambert explained.