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So, if the flu season hits your community hard, will your health care staff suffer because they didn’t get enough flu shots? Quite possibly. But there is something risk managers can do: Urge employees to stay home when they’re sick. Flu will spread much more rapidly and cause far more disruption to a health care organization if employees report for duty when sick, says Lori Rosen, JD, a workplace analyst for CCH Inc., a consulting firm in Riverwoods, IL, that specializes in employment law. Rosen calls the problem "presenteeism" and advises you to combat it just as much as absenteeism.
Employers say presenteeism is a problem
According to the findings of the 2004 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey, 39% of employers surveyed report presenteeism is a problem in their organization. Presenteeism is a problem for employers not only because of employees’ lowered productivity, but issues of contagion to an otherwise healthy work force. Organizations that have low employee morale are at even greater risk of sick workers on the job, with 52% of companies with poor or fair morale reporting presenteeism is a problem.
"With a serious flu season looming, the idea of the hero worker that manages to punch in for a full day’s work, despite illness, needs to be discouraged," Rosen says. "Being in contact with contagious individuals jeopardizes the health and productivity of all employees. Employers need to emphasize to employees that while they need them at work, they first want a healthy workplace."
Don’t encourage martyrs
Some traditional absence control and sick-day policies may inadvertently encourage employee presenteeism, Rosen notes. Organizations that adhere to traditional sick day policies and take disciplinary action to enforce them may make it difficult for employees to do the right thing. "For example, in an organization that allots each employee five sick days a year, and takes disciplinary action on the sixth absence, an employee who has been wiped out with the flu for several days may choose to come to work ill rather than risk the discipline," she says. "This is especially true at the beginning of the year, when employees are concerned about depleting all of their allowed leave in just a month or two. Unfortunately, that time also is the height of flu season."
Set a good example
Rosen offers these suggestions for how risk managers can minimize the impact of flu season: