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5 tips to reduce the impact of illness

13 February 2014

It sometimes seems like employees would do anything to stay away from the office - but a recent study has revealed the opposite trend among sick workers.

A US-based survey from OfficeTeam on the habits of ill employees found that the vast majority actually make an effort to go to work even when they are not well. Approximately 70 per cent of respondents admitted to turning up at work while sick.

This high rate seems to correlate with the opinions of managers, who were also surveyed as part of the study. Nearly two thirds of managers said they think their employees come in to work "somewhat" or "very" frequently when they are sick.

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Robert Hosking, Executive Director of OfficeTeam, explained that the majority of employees only turned up to work when sick because they feared the implications of taking a day off.

"Many professionals fear falling behind or feel that they can't afford to take a sick day, so they head into work when they are under the weather," he said in a January 28 statement.

"Managers should encourage their teams to stay home when they are sick. Let staff know that there's nothing heroic about spreading colds and flu."

Therefore, here are five tips to help maintain a well workplace:

  • Address the issue head-on. Remind staff to avoid spreading sickness throughout the office (and prolonging their own suffering) by staying home when they are sick.
  • Model the behaviour. If you are a manager, resist the urge to come in sick yourself, employees will assume you expect the same of them.
  • Give "homework" where possible. If appropriate to do so, allow those who can to work from home if their ailment is minor or they are on the mend. This helps protect other staff from catching the illness and allows the employee to stay away without using too many sick days.
  • Keep it clean. Encourage staff to keep common areas, such as kitchens and break rooms, clean and make hand sanitizer available to avoid the spread of germs.
  • Have a back-up plan. Identify team members who can take over responsibilities for sick employees to avoid a backlog of work and to put sick employees' minds at rest about work building up or tasks being missed.

Ensuring workers are fully aware of their sick leave entitlements is also important, under the National Employment Standards (NES), full time employees in Australia are entitled to 10 days of paid personal leave each year. Part time employees can receive a pro-rata entitlement to sick leave based on the hours they work, according to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Educating your workers on their entitlements may help give them the reassurance of knowing they can take a day off work to fully recover, and prevent the spread of disease, when necessary. Workers should also be clear about the organisation's policy on sick leave, including evidence requirements and the procedure for calling in sick. This will help any episodes of illness to be less stressful for team members and managers.

For HR consulting services, including advice on policies and procedures, contact iHR Australia on 1300 884 687 or make an online enquiry.

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