Health and Safety

Why Sick Days Are Important and How to Encourage Employees to Take Them 

May 2, 2024

The business case for encouraging sick days 

  • Encouraging sick days prevents serious sickness and fatigue that may lead to prolonged long-term health consequences and delayed recovery. 
  • Cross-training your team makes it easier for employees to feel confident their work will get done if they take time off. 
  • The factors leading to sick day guilt can be reduced when a company’s culture prioritizes wellness and offers resources for employees to improve their health. 


Historically, when an employee was sick at work, employers encouraged their staff to go home and rest to prevent germs spreading throughout the office. Employees could completely distance themselves from work and focus on recovery, but lately sick day use is decreasing. With the increase in remote and hybrid work arrangements, being able to completely unplug from work at home is becoming more challenging. Today, fewer employees take time off to recover because their job is available in their home by simply logging on. 

Why should employers encourage employees to take sick days? 

While reduced sick time usage might seem like a financial boon for employers, these days are essential to an organization’s comprehensive success. A short-term employee absence is far more desirable than a long-term absence that could have been prevented if that employee had prioritized their health. When sick day use is in decline, employees may suffer from long-term consequences in both physical health and mental wellbeing. There are also increased occurrences of presenteeism, meaning employees are logged in and paid for time when they are less productive due to illness. 

Employees may also feel guilty for taking sick days, fearing resentment if colleagues have to take on their work, or criticism from their employer. If this guilt is present, then your company’s culture and management style need a revamp and a new strategy. Employees should not feel pressured to jeopardize their health by logging in to stay on top of increasing workloads. There are many reasons why employees who work from home take fewer sick days, and it is necessary to consider how your organization plays a role in this issue. Let’s explore three ways you can encourage your workers to use their sick days and help them feel comfortable disconnecting from work when they feel unwell. 

Sick day guilt 

Encourage rest and recovery 

Skipping rest when unwell can delay recovery. Working through sickness and fatigue may lead to long-term health and wellness consequences. A written Sick Days Policy should clearly outline the number of sick days offered, available wellness supports, and the associated rules to remind employees of their entitlements and where to find them. The policy must emphasize that the expectations of sick days is consistent for any type of work arrangement, including hybrid and remote employees. It is important to convey that a sick day is not equivalent to working from home when unwell. In doing this, remote and hybrid employees will not feel nervous about claiming a day off and will also understand that these days are in place not just to prevent the spread of infection in the workplace but to provide the employee the necessary time for recovery. Additionally, having competitive and comprehensive sick day entitlements makes for effective recruitment and employee retention, helping your organization stand out from the rest. 

Using the Performance Management tool is an additional way to encourage the use of sick days and follow through by offering support and guidance regarding an employee’s wellness. For most effective results, accompany your written policy with 1:1 meetings between managers and employees. Employees can use these meetings to discuss their concerns, ask questions, and seek additional support. If an employee discusses information regarding their health, you should use this time as an opportunity to remind them of the benefits and importance of taking sick days and communicate the organization’s commitment to health. Sick days are both beneficial to the employee and employer because proper rest streamlines recovery. Properly addressing this through written and verbal communication is key. 

Optimize teams and productivity 

Sick days can interfere with work schedules by creating an overload of tasks that still need to be completed by strict deadlines. Not having a process that re-assigns an employee’s tasks when they are absent can leave colleagues struggling to complete tasks. Employees might try to prevent this difficulty by working when they’re sick, but doing so results in either incomplete tasks or poor-quality work. A Cross-Training Job Analysis Form is a great way to help you develop your employees’ skills and capabilities so that operations can continue in the event of critical staffing shortages or other absences. In the form, employees fill in their specific job tasks, including associated equipment requirements and process steps. If an employee is absent, someone can cover their job responsibilities with the completed form (and some training). This reduces the negative effects of presenteeism and reassures employees that they can take the time they need to recover from illness without their absence jeopardizing their team’s productivity. 

According to the Wellness Report conducted by Manulife, “an average of 48 days per employee were lost in 2022 due to health-related absences and presenteeism, and it is costing employers close to $645 million annually.” Without sufficient internal coverage and cross-training, employees may feel that they cannot take time off because they do not have a team to take on their tasks. If your goal has been to decrease absenteeism in your workplace, you must also solve the presenteeism problem. 

Adopt a company culture that supports wellness 

“Sick day guilt” is the pressure to work when unwell, along with the anxious feeling employees experience about calling in sick. This guilt is rooted in a company culture that lacks wellness encouragement and support. A Wellness Initiatives Policy communicates your organization’s commitment to improve the several types of wellness and introduce healthy habits employees can adopt into their everyday routines. Additionally, using a Benefits Information Session Memo can communicate valuable information about health packages and supports offered. Both resources help foster a culture that values and prioritizes wellness. 

If you expect employees to have great attendance, bring positivity into the workplace, and perform at their highest potential, you need to lead by example and implement practices that support all staff in their wellness journey. Wellness is a comprehensive concept, so physical, social, and emotional wellness are suitable places to start improving. To show that your organization takes health seriously beyond the basic vision and dental coverage, consider implementing free gym memberships, covered therapies, and paid wellness days. When your remote and hybrid employees know you care about health and wellness, they will not feel guilty to take a day off whether they have severe influenza or a mild cough, because they know that their employer understands that all aspects of health matter. 

A workplace culture that supports others when they are unwell brings about a sense of community that prioritizes everyone’s wellness. Eliminating sick day guilt is crucial; people get sick, and organizations need to accept that fact without making the employee feel bad for taking a day off, even if the timing is inconvenient. 

Improve health and wellness by encouraging sick days 

Employees working while unwell is not a good sign, and it indicates a deeper issue rooted in an organization’s culture and views on health. Solving the deeper issues requires commitment, precision, and an openness to change. Attendance is not necessarily productivity; just because an employee is active online does not mean they are active in completing their work. Communicating to your staff that remote and hybrid work arrangements do not eliminate the need for sick days is essential for promoting a healthful culture and demolishing sick day guilt. Employees who work from home still need sick days; it’s just a matter of ensuring your staff feel comfortable in taking these days off. 

Implement sick day policies that are simple, effective, and to the point with HRdownloads at your fingertips. 

At HRdownloads, we understand the dynamic needs of modern businesses and the significance of employee wellness. We offer proven solutions for HR software, HR content, HR support, and Live HR Advice. If you’re looking to highlight your organization’s commitment to the health and wellness of its people, speak with our HR experts today for a free, no-obligation quote.