How much money can you afford to throw away? Most business owners would emphatically answer, “Zero!” Yet Canadian businesses lose about 2.4% of payroll—$16.6 billion in 2011, according to Statistics Canada—to sick days, not including indirect costs like finding replacement workers or delays to projects. It might seem surprising, then, that the best way to reduce the cost related to illness is to encourage employees to take sick days.
Research published in the American Journal for Public Health shows that providing even just one or two paid sick days to employees reduces the spread of infections in workplaces by 25 to 39%. Intuitively, this makes sense; if an employee stays home, they don’t share their germs, which means they reduce the number of sick days their colleagues have to take. One employee taking two sick days is far less costly than five or six employees taking one each. And the risk is real. Contagions spread rapidly in workplaces: being cooped up with a sick person for a long time, with everyone using the same equipment, the same recirculated air—not to mention that some people don’t cover their coughs and sneezes—it’s small wonder people talk about colds making the rounds at work, as if being sick were just another job duty being re-assigned every week. When a sick worker spreads their sickness, they multiply the harm they do in the workplace. So if a sick worker stays home, they actually reduce the number of sick days their colleagues have to take—a net benefit to employers.
Every season is full of its own kinds of illnesses, and employees often bring their latest sickness to work, coughing, sneezing, sniffling, hacking all around you, wastebaskets filling with discarded tissues, faces pale, eyes glazed, shivering and chattering until you start seriously considering quarantine measures, comparison-shopping for hazardous materials suits online, wondering what’s the largest size of bottle hand sanitizer comes in. To put it bluntly, nobody likes being around sick co-workers, and nobody likes being at work when they’re sick. When surveyed by Morneau Shepell, 47% of Canadian employees indicated that physical sickness hurt their performance at work. So why do so many employees treat every day like it’s Take Your Cough to Work Day? More importantly, how can you address the risks?
Employers are responsible for the health and safety of their employees at work, and while this does not put you on the hook for every little cold, you should still consider whether it’s worth insisting on your employees coming to work when they’re not at their best. Download our Sick Day Encouragement Guide for some suggested actions to help you figure out your best options to keep your staff at their healthiest.