IT Employment

Feeling the pressure to work sick


In an article on ComputerWorld, I read this statement: "Forty percent of organizations say they discourage sick workers from coming to the office by educating employees on the importance of staying home when they're ill."

Apparently, I've never had the opportunity to work for a company in that forty percent, because I don't recall being discouraged from coming in when I'm sick. Maybe it's me but, historically, I've always felt the slightest tinge of judgment in a boss's voice when I call in sick, like it's a weakness in my character.

"You say you've actually coughed up a lung? Well, OK, but you'll be in tomorrow, right?"

The piece I read said its employees are reluctant to stay home for their own reasons, which results in "a phenomenon known as presenteeism -- when sick workers come to work but can't perform at their usual level and endanger the health of co-workers."

So what do you think? Do you think the reluctance to miss work is because of managerial pressure (and a fear of discipline) or your own heavy workload?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

120 comments
sauceml
sauceml

I think those of us with heavy workloads choose to work because there are things we have to get done. But the other side of the coin is there are work from home options that should be utilized to ensure the rest of the office doesn't get sick. In my experience one person will come in sick then the virus circles through the office one employee at a time..resulting in all kinds of lost productivity.

dawuf
dawuf

Actually this whole issue is nothing but a control issue. It goes to what is a core sickness in corporations. First of all, there are very few reasons to have "face time" on a job, even when your not sick, when it can easily be done at home as most people involved with IT could actually do given the tools we have out there. And even if you work from home, it is very poor management if an employee could not have down time and the company would suffer if you were out of pocket for few days.

Chaz Chance#
Chaz Chance#

Thank you all for sharing your experiences. It has been a real eye opener for me. Here in the UK most companies give 20 days annual leave (my company gives 25, going up to 30 after 10 years service), and pay one third for sick days up to 3 months continual absence. I got 2 paid weeks paternal leave when my daughter was born (her mother would have been able to take 3 months). Because of these generous terms few people feel the need to use sick days as a means of getting an extra day off. I was considering taking a job in America because the salaries look quite good for my specialisms. Having read the comments of you all, I realise now that "the land of the free" is an aspiration, not a statement of fact. Ah well, didn't fancy the weather in NY anyway. :)

Jaqui
Jaqui

the workers who can't afford, financially, to take the day off sick? not every job includes sick days. [ retail, restaurant, bar being some areas that don't offer that. ] They also tend to be among the LOWEST paying jobs, and among those positions where the risk to other's health is greatest.

mikifin
mikifin

I worked in one of the largest if not the largest software companies in the Northwest. This is what I was told in one of their "orientation" groups: "Well, we can't tell you to come in every day, but, I have noticed that people who take sick days and vactions days etc. don't last long here. However, they are real spin masters. When the TV crews are around the see "happy" employees playing ball around clean spacious campuses and gleaming cafeterias, but there is a very real darker side. The company works employees to death, I have seen people destroyed to the point they had breakdowns. They sadistically torment temporary employees and commit even more egregious acts on "the help" not to mention that the chairman is libel to walk in to some one's office and scream at people out of the blue. Many if not most of the companies in the computer industry pride themselves on modeling this company. A place where you count your fingers after every handshake and check your back for knives regularly. I left that company and became a consultant. I left my briefcase always packed by the door ready to leave on a handshake, I didn't move into my office like it was some second apartment. I made more money and had less grief. Corporate America is a cesspool and most of those working in it don't know any better. Sick time is the least of their worries really.

pollyryan
pollyryan

Yes even when the Boss has you falling down in front of them - there is a guilt and fear and I do not know foresure where it comes from but it is there. How does one get well.

pauls
pauls

Sick leave should never be an issue as people need to be given time and space to recover - Sick management practices lead to employee turnover which in turn leads to poor service and eventually business instability.

www.pokeysnookey
www.pokeysnookey

well in my country i mean if a person is really sick and its is contagious the employee is advised to stay home and get better fast. they rather have one employee home than having the risk of others getting sick

Photogenic Memory
Photogenic Memory

I've worked for places that have pressured me before for calling in sick( It's not often but it is it's bad ). I found a strategy that works to my advantage everytime. Check it out: 1.) Tell them that your sick when you come into work. 2.) Cough, sneeze, and wheeze as if you were at home( grotesquely if possible). 3.) No makeup( for the ladies ) or shaving ( for the men ) to capture the full effect. 4.) After your co-workers have seen you and your disease process run-amok; ask everyone if you should go home. Most of them will say yes for fear that they'll catch it to. 5.) Go speak to the manager and tell him "you just can't do today" then cough or sneeze as hard as you can. Maybe something will fly out. 6.) After he says Yes ( and he/she/it will ); go home and call in the next day as well. Disclaimer: This only work for short term illnesses such as the flu, diarrhea, hang-over's, and food poisoning, LOL!

rbater1
rbater1

That may be true for non-billing, non-profit generating employees like those in HR. How many of those companies have unlimited sick leave? How many are publicaly held companies? My company has 0 sick days and a max of 15 paid days off no matter what your tenure. If you want to take a vacation when you are healthy you need to go to work when you are sick. The shareholders demand it.

O'Hachey
O'Hachey

Interestingly, we just got a presentation from management informing us that to manage absentiism at our company, we will be implementing the Bradford Index as of April 1st. Basically, the BI calculates like this: (square the number of illness occurrences in the last rolling 12 months) multiplied by the number of full sick days in the last rolling 12 months. We use to have an absentiism management program that was solely based on illness occurrences. Has anyone had any experience with the Bradford Index?

LPEAGLE666
LPEAGLE666

My company is unique we have sick leave but it is only used when you are REALLY sick as in sick in bed. If you lets say have just a cold or something else that is considered contagous but doesn't really knock you off your feet we are setup to work from home. This cuts down on the use of sick leave.

herfindahlchristine
herfindahlchristine

Depending on the size of your IT department, the pressure to work while ill could be extremely high. I was in the middle of a recent firm wide program roll out....and I am THE only person in my department (minus a secretarial assistant who keeps me organized)....I came down with that nasty flu that was going around. I COULDN'T take off of work. Who would be here to support and debug??

becky.cashdollar
becky.cashdollar

Our company would much rather you stay home and not share the plague. My supervisor allows us to comp time up to 8 hours a month. So if I miss a day, I can always make it up. We recently went to Paid Time Off instead of vacation and sick days. I think that people are far more reluctant to use PTO time for sick days. I always try to make sure that I have at least five days left for being sick. After the 6th day, its considered short term disability and I don't lose any more days, plus I still get paid. Great company huh? We pay for that company culture by getting paid quite a bit below the national and regional IT salary. But when your kid is sick and your supervisor lets you work from home or comp your time, how do you put a price on that?

Wisconsincat
Wisconsincat

I work for company that says they want you to take off when you are sick and oh, by the way, all you exempt people who used to get unlimited sick leave, well now you get 7 days a year and if you should go over, we will doc your pay even if you were averaging 50 hrs of work a week. And as an added bonus, your short term disability has been reduced from 100% to 60% for 6 months and if WE should deem you need long term disability, we will pay you 50% and terminate you and stop your health insurance. Then, they wonder why we come in sick. I come in sick hoping to infect the CEO and HR.

drdosus
drdosus

At my company, corporate espouses that 'associates should take healthcare to a positive end' and to that end they have provided a quite generous portion of 'sick time'. The catch is, if one tries to actually _use_ that sick time, FMLA paperwork must be submitted or the absence is counted as unexcused, EVEN IF SCHEDULED WELL IN ADVANCE.

christopher.ramey
christopher.ramey

I've been feeling under the weather all week and haven't taken a day off yet. Although not because of fear of any type of discipline or the like. But because I am out of sick days! I was off for 4 months because of injuries from a car accident and the way our company works sick/vacation days; I don't accrue them while I'm off and it also takes away from what I have while I'm off. So, for the first little bit of leave, it was gobbling up all my vacation and sick days leaving me with nothing right now. Yeah, this sucks.

robocso
robocso

I once phoned in sick after it had been confirmed that I had double pneumonia and the boss said that if I could not drive the following day he would come and pick me up. I convinced him that I would not be very productive and he did not pitch. The other time I was hospitalized on a Sunday and when I phoned in from the hospital bed on Monday the reply was, ???So does that mean you won???t be in today????. When my team members are ill I insist that they seek medical attention and recover before returning to work, which is seen as being soft by the company. Maybe one day I will chance upon one of those 40% companies, we can all dream.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...travelling across the country, and visiting a job site where everyone has been spreading the same bug to each other for the last week. Nobody considers staying home until after they've been there long enough to spread it to the next person, and then finally having to submit to exhaustion. Net result; everyone gets sick, eventually have to stay home anyway to get over it, and then risks passing it on to me at the beginning of a long week 2000 miles from home. And then they wonder why I wipe everyone's keyboard down and disappear every 30 minutes to wash my hands.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

5 paid holladays a year and 10 days vacation, this gets used when they decide to close for an extra day around Thanksgiving or Christmas, at no pay. After 5 years I get 15 days... and somewhere around 10 years I get 20 days.

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

The only country I've lived where you need to carry a picture ID to go shopping. Les.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

You just have to watch where you put your feet. The streets ARE paved with gold, but nobody cleans up behind the horses. :D

RFink
RFink

A former girlfriend of mine worked as a waitress. One day she is really sick and goes to work. Several customers complained to the manager that a sick waitress was handling their food and had their orders sent back. The manager sent her home, without pay of course. When she recovered she filed a complaint with the local health department that this restaurant was allowing sick employees serve food.

Photogenic Memory
Photogenic Memory

Most people expect their employers to recognize their humanity. Even in this day and age where information is made so freely available; learning to empower oneself through it takes a lot of effort. It's so important when working in these so called "team" environments to look out for numero uno. Thanks for sharing your experience!

$dunk$
$dunk$

[i]My company has 0 sick days and a max of 15 paid days off no matter what your tenure. If you want to take a vacation when you are healthy you need to go to work when you are sick. The shareholders demand it.[/i] It's fools like you who enable employers to get away with poor benefits. MOST companies employing skilled technical people in the US provide sick days and vacation time that goes up as you gain tenure and doesn't top out at 3 weeks. In fact, a more recent trend is to start employees off at 3 weeks vacation and not 2 weeks as has been done in the past. If that's the best benefits your company can offer then I would only be working there long enough that I could find another job. The only reason companies can get away with crap is because ignorant people are willing to put up with it. It has nothing to do with the shareholders.

RFink
RFink

Missing five days one at a time is 25 times worse then missing five days at once? Five days one at a time 5^2 * 5 = 125 Five days at once 1^2 * 5 = 5 The trouble with using a formula is that people will figure out ways to use it to their advantage.

$dunk$
$dunk$

[i]This cuts down on the use of sick leave.[/i] If they require you to work from home, even if you are sick. Then, I suppose that means you don't have to charge sick time? In that case, that makes more sick days available to you. If I'm staying home, I'll probably be taking the STRONG medication. Thus, they won't be getting much productivity out of me. Especially when I'm passed out in bed. The nice thing is that I'm not using sick time. Sounds like a win-win situation to me;^)

sharpj
sharpj

Fortunately (or not) I get NO flack for taking time off. But then again, i work for the Fed gov't. After 20 years, I get 5 weeks of vacation and 3 weeks of sick leave. When I was being treated for colon cancer, I took every minute of it, and then they let me telecommute. A couple years later, I decided I would take EVERY sick day I wanted, regardless of what they think. Just a benefit of belonging to the country's largest union, I suppose. I don't even tell them why... I call and say "I'm taking a sick day." If it goes beyond 3 days they 'can' require a DR's note.

rcb
rcb

Toni Bowers statement was 40% "say" they encourage workers to stay home. In my job we get 5 sick days a year but God help you if you have to use them. It better be for a catastrophic illness. I over heard one of the owners of my company telling interns that if they call in sick he will think of them as wimps. To me there is an underlying attitude in a lot of places that say one thing and expect another in an unsaid fashion. Yes come to work and get as many people as you can sick too.

christopher.ramey
christopher.ramey

So I took Friday off. Had to use a Floating Holiday for that. Found out Saturday night that I have pink eye as well. It's Monday and I'm back at work. Working in IT, rubbing my infected eye, typing on other peoples keyboards and using their mice! Gotta love this system!!! The ironic thing is I watched "Sicko" on Friday. I wish we had the same benefits as Europe. When they were asked about how many sick days they got, they had a dumbfounded look on their faces. You can't logically limit how many days sick you will be a year. There's no way to tell.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I'd be sending you home. Making people work when they are sick is a short sighted thing. One it creates burnout, and people don't produce as much when they are sick - working when you are sick well often extend the recovery time and therefore the less productive time. Tow, it infects others - so you can be down by more than one staff. I actually had to order someone home once. I saw him in the hall, and he was flushed and sweaty. He looked like a plaque carrier, and I ordered him home. An hour or so later I saw him again and so I had to tell him I was not inviting him to go home, I was in fact ordering him. I told his direct supervisor (who reported to me) to make sure it happened or I would be cross. I've been known to let the occasional employee take a sick day and "forget" to tell HR. James

jdclyde
jdclyde

REQUIRES you to use up your vacation/personal/sick days before the program kicks in. It does make it so you had a job to come back to though, so things could have gone from bad to worse real quick. Good luck with that. You have a long ways to go before the year starts over. Some employers will work with you on this though, if you talk to them.

jw
jw

I had a heart attack ( according to boss, had nothing to do with stress at work) while I was in ICU recovering from surgery they kept calling asking questions and wondering when I will be back. The doctors released me after 3 weeks to work 4 hours a day. I was required by my boss to work 10 hours a day or lose my job. I have been w/ this company for 9 years as the only IT person for 4 manufacturing facilities.

netrx
netrx

It happened to me last year. I have a good work record and rarely get sick, but people constantly come to work sick at the office. One guy was extremely sick with a heavy cough...after forur days of being exposed to this, I came down with it, and within another 24 hours I had bronchial pneumonia and was out for 3 full weeks. It probably took 3 months for me to recover fully. On my return, I went straight to personnel and told them if this ever happens again, I will be suing the company for negligence. They have finally begun encouraging people to NOT come to work sick instead of saving their sick days for a vacation.

thinker999
thinker999

Slacker! ;-) If you carried Lysol spray, hand sanitizer, and sanitizing wipes in your brief case, you wouldn't have to leave the desk, and could keep being productive! You *do* know I'm 'pulling your leg,' right?? As for their wondering, it's amazing how the 'obvious' isn't always obvious. Kudos to you for trying. It's both self-preservation, and concern for your fellow human back home that you're trying not to bring it to. We potential targets thank you!

stephen.martin
stephen.martin

My manager doesn't have a problem if i am sick it's the HR dept that goes crazy, the company has a policy of 2% absence per year and if a day is missed i get a spanish inquisition as to why the day was missed and the impact my missed day has on my dept (which is none incidentally as no one covers for me)and we also have to do back to work interviews, so please someone point me to that 40% of companies that tell you its ok to be ill.

ganyssa
ganyssa

on paper (8 or so holidays, depending on how Christmas/New Years falls, 17 vacation days after 6 years). However, I get 6 sick days a year, and I have had it brought up in an annual review if I actually use all the time I have coming to me. How I'm supposed to *not* use 6 sick days in a year with a small child, has never been explained to me.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

actually passed the National ID like we have?

setantapc
setantapc

Can I make a post that "straddles the fence" ? My wife worked for a company that noted in a review that she had used all her sick days. From the way they were talking she realized with a chill this was perceived as not good. When she asserted she was allowed those days and made use of them they conveyed she was in the minority and few employees used all sick days. Short story 13 months later after 18 years service she was quietly ushered out with a tidy severance package. Now on the flip side I worked at a place where you could log in to the HR site and view stats on your benefits. Employee X was noted that every time he had earned his .99 of a day, the next day he was mysteriously sick. Again "this was his right", he was due this day so he took it. There are 2 sides to every coin, but the point is if you are that ill, you really should not be in the workplace spreading sickness like a Typhoid Mary.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

[i]If that's the best benefits your company can offer then I would only be working there long enough that I could find another job. The only reason companies can get away with crap is because ignorant people are willing to put up with it.[/i] There ain't no other jobs out there where I am, unless I want to take a 40% pay cut. And it's glad I am that you don't have a family to feed. One of you is enough; the thought of little $dunk$s running loose on the face of the earth horrifies.

O'Hachey
O'Hachey

If you look at the Bradford Index as a single solution then you are right it is easy to manipulate. There are other HR systems that work with the BI, one which deals with "extended absenses" and of course the intervention of the leader/manager when something is wrong. The primary focus is to target the individuals that take sick leave frequently and secondary to that to add weight to the amount of full days taken off. Note that doctor appointments, surgeries (including recovery time), deaths and births do not get factored in to this equation.

jdclyde
jdclyde

It is one thing for someone that is always looking for ways to get out of coming into work, it is quite another for someone that was in this case and the medical leave. A few years ago when I was in the hospital with double pneumonia, it did suck up all of my vacation daze. If things came up that I needed time off for, we were always able to work things out. If I was sick, the let me slide. If it was personal time needed for something, they let me make up the time by offering to trade a friday for a sat or sun. Being salary though, I am paid to get the job done, not punch a clock.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Last year my wife had a serious accident and was in the hospital for three weeks. I have on paper 5 sicks days. I took that and more. My boss didn't ask me to use vacation days. He told me, take care of your family. He asked me what help I needed. He went around lightening my load even after I was back at work. I had already booked two weeks vacation in the summer, and he insisted I use them to rest and be with my family. My employer doesn't pay that well, but those actions and the concern and care that I have been treated with earn a lot of loyalty in my book. James

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

The reality is that no matter what enlightened management may say, people who take preemptive sick days (meaning, staying home a day or two to rest up before getting seriously ill) will always be looked askance by many co-workers and management. This situation is made worse by the reality of the many who genuinely abuse ?sick days? for other than illness. But there?s no question that a single employee missing a day or two is far less an enemy to overall productivity than a whole office of marginally-working sick people who eventually have to stay home a week anyway to finally get over a bug. It?s issues like this that make me glad I?m self-employed.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

I started after there was that study a few years ago that found that your average keyboard had more bioactivity than your average toilet bowl. Whenever I'd look at someone's station, I'd wipe it down, calling in a "additional service". People liked it. My nightmare scenario was that I'd start a trip on a Monday, get infected by Tuesday, start feeling it by Thursday, and then have to fly home with a head cold/flu on Friday, and then spend the next weekend and part of next week paying for the previous week. Fortunately, that hasn't happened for some time.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

touch everything, use their phones if you can, shake hands with everyone.

uberg33k50
uberg33k50

I am sorry to hear that you have to put up with that. I really was interested in seeing the posts from people in different countries. I was under the impression that only the US companies were run by jerks...eveidently it is world wide.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Canada does not have a national picture ID yet. We have passports, drivers licenses (by province), health cards (by province). Permanent residents (non citizens) have a federally issued photo ID. The ONLY reason we are looking at a national ID card is to get around the need to issue Canadians passports to visit the US. Before homeland security existed all we needed was a birth certificate/resident card and some form of picture id like a drivers license or health card. When I was a kid, before health cards had pics, I got an "age of majority" card so I could drink in bars without a drivers license. By the way in Ontario you can enter a bar without ID, but may be asked to prove your age, no one enforces helmet laws and women can be topless in public, legally. There was a case recently about a Sikh man who did not want to wear a motorcycle helmet, which is the law and is enforced. Instead of paying the fine he took it to the Supreme court of Ontario, which ruled that despite the fact his religion specifies a turban, he is not exempt from the law. James

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

Canada also has a national picture ID. The only 2 countries I've visited where I can't drink my favourite beverage in public, where I can't enter a bar without carrying a picture ID, where I can lose my driving license for riding a bicycle without a helmet, where women can be arrested for being topless, but men do not (the last 3 apply to the US only). It's safe, clean and comfortable .. but free, hmmm!! Les.

Chaz Chance#
Chaz Chance#

We got hundreds of jobs going in UK companies. So many we are recruiting from all over Europe. At least you would learn the language a lot quicker than my Bulgarian and Polish colleagues. Our currency is doing well against the dollar, so that will work in your favour. We've got mountains, coast, plains, Walmart, and castles. If you want culture, you can get on a train (with your car, if you like) and be in Paris in a few hours. ;) What more could you ask?

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Most of the ads I see for the Charleston area are for software or level 1 tech support. I don't program any more and level 1 support is a significant pay cut for me. Personally, having been through Andrew (and others), I don't understand why anybody lives on the coast. Besides, it's too flat down there. ;)

$dunk$
$dunk$

[i]My major problem with your OP was the title and general tone.[/i] Sorry about the tone. Sometimes it's just my personality. I'm actually a very likeable person once you get used to me. I just like to grumble sometimes, I think it relieves my stress. Once people get to know me they just laugh. They know even if I'm grumbling about a task that they won't find anyone who will do it better or faster. Take the good with the bad.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

IT seems to be hot here on the coast. Plus it's prettier. Why anyone lives in the upstate of SC is beyond me.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Did your mother get her revenge? ("Wait 'til you have children, they'll be just like you!" :) ) I've been working for almost 40 years and know how it should be; we are working from the inside to get things improved. But South Carolina is not a good place to be looking for a tech support job right now unless you're interested in a level 1 position; lots of those out there. My major problem with your OP was the title and general tone.

$dunk$
$dunk$

Well...I don't want to give you nightmares but there are little dunks running around. And world's a better place for it:) The goal of my post was to point out how shocked I am that so many people don't even bother to find out how they should expect to be treated at work and then don't take steps to remedy the situation. This is laziness on their part. The fact is that most companies are good companies to work for. Most companies treat their employees well. Most companies expect their employees to have a life outside of work. Most companies that are interested in attracting the best talent are increasing benefits, not cutting back. If you aren't working at one of those good companies then you *hosing* yourself. It's not the employer's fault. If you are willing to put up with it then they'll continue to do it. If they start losing too many people because they don't treat them right then their policies will change. If they find it to be hard to hire new employees because they have a bad reputation, then their policies will change. Yes, not every person has the option to change jobs when they are stuck at a bad company. But if they were smart they would be spending a fair amount of time job hunting and doing interview preparation by the off chance that the good job does appear. I laugh at how many people think it's expected that you work more than 40 hours because they are salaried. Before I even bother going on an interview one of my questions is what are the work hours like. Most people won't come out directly and say, it's typical to work 50 hour weeks, but they'll imply it. I don't waste my time with those companies. I'm more than willing to put in those kind of hours in the short term because sh*t happens. But not as a company culture. I learned a while back that if you don't keep your skills current, you become obsolete pretty quickly. Now I take major efforts to keep my skills current. It takes too much of my own time to keep my skills current. I can't do that and work 50+ hours per week and have a family life. Especially, when it's unnecessary because the employer down the road knows how to treat their employees with an ounce of concern.

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