Will WFH Kill Sick Leaves?

The COVID-19 pandemic brought many changes to the working world, some good and some bad.

A lot of employees liked the newfound flexibility of remote work and hybrid arrangements. According to Beamery’s Talent Index, half of all workers feel their careers can progress faster with remote work options.

Not to mention, many people reported a better work/life balance since telecommuting regularly.

But the survey also found an alarming result: 65% of employees said that remote options put pressure on them to work while sick. Since there’s no risk of spreading an illness to colleagues while working from home, many feel obligated to work through a sickness. In fact, 39% of workers surveyed said they’re now more likely to work while sick — when, before COVID-19, they would’ve just taken the day off.

Experts are saying sick days are becoming a thing of the past.

Sick day taboo

Even before the pandemic, sick days were somewhat taboo, according to Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Workplace Intelligence. Many employees felt the pressure to push through, or over-justify why they needed to take one. Not to mention, the average cold lasts a week — but most workers simply can’t miss that much work, whether they have too much to do, or they don’t have enough sick time saved.

In that sense, the transition to remote work has been beneficial. Employees can work from their bed with a box of tissues and avoid infecting their colleagues, while not getting too far behind.

But this comes with a catch. Employees don’t want managers to think they’re taking advantage of the remote work benefit, so they tend to work through an entire sickness without taking any time off at all.

Another downside of COVID-19 — it made other illnesses seem like no big deal, according to about half of employees. Even worse, 66% of workers worry that taking time off for anything less severe than COVID-19 would make them look bad to the boss.

Lead by example

Employers may think remote work is the perfect solution for employees lacking sick time, but when employees aren’t at their best, it ends up costing the company more than if they’d taken a sick day.

Multiple studies have shown when employees are ill or burned out, they’re three times less productive. Instead of having an employee come to work for several days not at their best, giving them time to recover would be more productive in the long run.

Ultimately, employers can’t force people to take a sick day if they don’t want to, but making it known that employees are encouraged to take sick time even while working remotely can go a long way.

Another way to send the message that sick days are OK is to give your employees more, or to offer mental health days. When time off is specifically allotted for rest that has nothing to do with physical illness, employees will feel it’s less of a taboo to take time off to recharge.

Some companies are also training their managers to be more empathetic toward employees calling in sick. It also helps for employees to see higher-ups taking sick time. Leading by example can do a lot.

The future of remote work

So what does this all mean for the future of remote work? While employees are aware of the sick day problem, they certainly don’t want remote work to go away.

Beamery’s Talent Index found employees want flexibility to continue throughout 2022, and some even are asking for a four-day workweek (37%).

This doesn’t mean employees don’t want to put in hard work. The survey found they also want their companies to provide them with more professional development (85%) and better training options (45%).

Another thing workers are expecting is more help with childcare. Almost 80% wish employers would have greater flexibility and understanding for working parents juggling their careers and kids.

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