Why people are likely to take fewer sick days as a result of the pandemic

The pandemic has resulted in a heightened awareness around hygiene and infection.

We’re washing our hands more than ever, have hand sanitiser within reach and are isolating when we are contagious. In fact, it’s likely this increased focus on hygiene will keep colds and flu bugs at bay this winter.

So, if we’re more conscious of infection and health in general, will this mean we’ll be more vigilant when it comes to going into work sick in future? And will we feel less guilty about taking a sick day than we have in the past?

Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, says: ‘For a long time, we’ve celebrated “busy culture” which might have led us to feel guilty for taking time off when we’re sick. 

Visit our live blog for the latest updates Coronavirus news live

‘In some respects, Covid has brought us more in tune with our bodies – many of us have become more aware of when we’re feeling tired or run down, for example.’ 

We might naturally assume that post-pandemic we’ll see people taking more sick days – which means less time sat around colleagues sniffling and sneezing, or hearing coughs echoing throughout the office.

However, it’s not quite as simple as this.

Professor Cary Cooper, from Alliance Manchester Business School, says history has shown that the opposite may happen.

He says that the pandemic, and the subsequent recession that is occurring as a result of it, will mean there’s a decrease in the number of sick days taken.

This is down to the fact that in times of economic uncertainty, people go into work – even when they’re sick.

Cary has coined this phenomenon as ‘presenteeism’ – AKA the opposite of ‘absenteeism.’

He tells Metro.co.uk: ‘People turn up to work ill but deliver no added value, they’re just doing it to show “face time.”

‘That’s what we are going to have when we get out of this lockdown and when we get rid Covid.

‘We’re in a recession now – but it’ll be worse in future because there will be no furloughing and no financial support – so a lot of people will lose their jobs and when that happens there will be fewer people doing more work and longer hours and showing up more, so their absenteeism rates will not go down – presenteeism will go up.

‘And in this current context – as we are working from home – people are still showing presenteeism as they are still sending emails at night, they’re not doing a 9am-5pm job – they’re over-working because they’re feeling insecure about their job.’

So despite this hyper-awareness of hygiene and infection, brought on by the pandemic, people will still go to the office or work from home when they are sick, as job security will be the main driving force.

Cary adds: ‘I think the job insecurity is predominant, people are very worried about their jobs – even people who feel relatively secure.

‘In times like this when people lose their jobs, what you tend to get is the remaining people, the survivors, tend to work longer hours, come to work ill and make themselves vulnerable because they’re not resting when they’re ill.

‘They are coming to work or they are working longer hours to show commitment, so they are not the next tranche of people who are made redundant.’

What’s more, this presenteeism demonstrated by employees could cost companies serious money. This is because sick employees are not being productive.

Cary says: ‘They’re not contributing any added value as they are poorly and also [if they are in the office] they’re infecting other people – it’s better if they just took the time off.

‘In 2008, when we had the last recession, it was calculated that the presenteeism rate cost £15 billion a year, whereas absenteeism only cost £8 billion.’

So it seems – alongside more working from home and job cuts – a fall in sick days will be another long-term consequence of the pandemic in the world of work.

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch at [email protected]

MORE : Expert tips to help people with bipolar disorder cope in the second national lockdown

MORE : How to cope with lockdown if you have SAD

MORE : People share lessons they learnt from the first lockdown as we approach the second

Source: Read Full Article