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Sick leave – a policy of honesty

Coming to work while sick can take out a workforce. The number of sick days taken by employees and workers decreased dramatically all over the world during the last decades. Where the average employee in Europe once spent 7.2 days a year at home due to illness, they took just 4.1 days off in 2017.

It’s difficult to attribute the change to general advancements in medicine, says Kylie Ainslie, a research associate in the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at Imperial College London; people aren’t necessarily getting sick less often. Climate change lets people even get more and more often sick,

Experts say a shifting work culture is also  to blame for creating a stigma around taking time off. Studies show that mistrust and fear of judgment from bosses have forced an increasing number of employees to come to work when sick.

The flu season – which peaks between December and February not only in the northern hemisphere – is when absences spike. It’s the time of year when the air is coldest and driest, the ideal conditions for the influenza virus to transmit quickly. I think we all experiences it during the last weeks also here in the Philippines.

Medical professionals agree that staying at home during the early stages of the flu – the first two days after catching the virus when the risk of contagion is at its highest – is essential for the health of both the affected workers and their colleagues. But do we stay at home?

Fact is:  employees don’t tell their manager the real reason for their absence when calling in sick because they’re afraid of being judged or disbelieved. If they really decide staying at home… .

During flu season, it's imperative that sufferers stay at home while they're still contagious. For unlucky people whose employers pressure them not to skip work, knowing how to effectively communicate the need for time off is a crucial step towards preserving both their own health and productivity, and that of coworkers.

As new technologies and instant connectivity have infiltrated global businesses, a new work dynamic has emerged. Depending on the industry, being present in the office is no longer a requisite for being productive. Many workers are equipped with all the necessary tools – a computer and Wifi – to function away from the office.

I did this many times. When cough and fever dictated me to stay at home, I worked at home. On the other hand, I am my own boss and nobody mistrust me. But with the freedom to work anywhere has come a wave of mistrust from managers who can’t monitor their subordinates in person.

George Boué, vice president of human resources at commercial real estate firm Stiles Corporation, says the stigma comes from “older generations that never accepted that someone can truly be working productively from home”. It manifests as a form of resistance to the concept of a decentralised workplace in which employees are trusted to keep themselves on task.

Sick leave – a policy of honesty? Very sure. Experts say the earlier an employee can notify their manager, the better. Establishing a line of communication with a boss at the onset of sickness can both convey respect and allow them more time to plan around the absence. Above all, being honest is the best way to avoid misunderstanding or resentment.

It really means staying home and truly offline when you’re feeling too sick to work, so that your team knows it’s okay to do the same when they aren’t feeling well. It’s also important to avoid contacting employees who are at home sick unless it’s for something truly urgent.

“A good boss should empathetic and understand,” Boué says. “Nothing builds a greater bond between boss and subordinate than showing genuine caring.” Very well said!

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