The Cost of Working Sick

By Matt Diehl

For some people, working sick is a way to show dedication to your job. However, doing so can negatively impact you, your colleagues and your company as a whole.

From productivity to profitability, here are the costs of working sick:

The effect on you, the employee

Research shows that 3 million people go to work sick every week in the United States1. Although physically present, your quality of work can decrease and productivity levels may drop as much as 67%1. While the reasons for not calling off may vary per employee, the effects of presenteeism can apply to everyone.

Presenteeism is a loss of productivity in the workplace due to employee health problems or personal issues2. For example, if you serve at a restaurant, you might work sick because you don’t want to leave your coworkers short staffed. If you work in an office, you might come in sick because you don’t want work to pile up. Some company cultures can also stimulate presenteeism which could pressure employees to avoid calling off3.

Here are some potential effects you could suffer by working sick:

  • Worsen your condition
  • Produce low quality work
  • Make errors or use poor judgment
  • Delay your return to work

The effect on others

Some people may think that working sick will impress their boss. Whether this is true or not, your coworkers may not be as receptive of a sick colleague in the workplace.

Aside from the coughing and sneezing, simply knowing that a colleague is sick could be distracting. Others may get sick easily and feel uneasy with you in the office. If you work in an open office environment, the risk of spreading your illness could increase as well.

By going into work sick, your actions could affect others in the following ways:

  • Cause a distraction
  • Create tension
  • Reduce morale
  • Spread illness throughout the workplace

The effect on the company

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, presenteeism costs companies more than medical care, prescription drugs and absenteeism combined. Outside of these costs, there are other potential liabilities and expenses a sick employee can pose to a company.

For instance, if you work in the foodservice industry, you could pose a risk of contaminating the food and getting your customers sick. In another case, if you work at a smaller company and infect half the staff, their profitability may be negatively impacted if they’re unable to run business as usual.

Some potential effects on a company may include:

  • Decreased profitability
  • Increased risk of worker shortage
  • Possible need to pay for temporary staff
  • Possible reduction in customer satisfaction

The remedy

The remedy to help keep down the costs of working sick is simple: stay home and recover. If you aren’t 100% sure of the sick leave policy at your company, this could be a great time to ask.

For instance, it’s important to know if you have paid sick leave and how many hours you have available. If you don’t have paid sick leave, it’s equally important to know how it will impact your schedule and paycheck. By knowing these facts, it could help you avoid stress about missing work and ease your mind during recovery.

When you feel sick and are scheduled to work, ask your manager if you can:

  • Stay home
  • Go home (if you’re already at work)
  • Telecommute if you feel you can still produce quality work
  • Coordinate with others to cover your work until you can return

Feel better!

When it comes to sick employees showing up for work, the costs usually outweigh the benefits4. To help ensure a healthy workplace, the best prescription for a sick employee is to get well at home and return to work fully recovered.




1https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-08-30/seriously-don-t-come-to-work-if-you-re-sick
2http://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/presenteeism.asp
3https://www.thebalance.com/the-billion-dollar-presenteeism-problem-2071997
4https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/01/upshot/the-high-costs-of-not-offering-paid-sick-leave.html?_r=0

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