Articles and Presentations
DC Velocity June 2005
On the job, but not on the ball
By Donald Jacobson and Shelley Safian
A sick worker is rarely a productive worker. Just because an employee can drag himself in to work doesn't mean he'll be able to muster the concentration to accomplish anything.
At first blush, it sounds like a problem any manager would love to have: Employees who never, ever call in sick. They might suffer from migraines, back pain or chronic allergies, but when it's time to show up for work, they're there. No whining, no excuses.
Who are these hardy souls who show up even when they're sick? Some are workaholics, the kind of people who feel guilty staying home. Some are simply career-obsessed individuals. Maybe they're in the running for a promotion or simply worried about who's doing what when they're out. Either way, these go-getters aren't about to give anyone an edge by staying away for even a day.
Others are driven by fear. Maybe they're worried about losing their jobs (particularly during economic downturns), or maybe they're afraid their co-workers will discover that everything runs smoothly without them. Whichever the case, it's fear that gets them up and out the door in the morning, and they're not going to be stopped by a case of the sniffles.
Still others simply can't afford to be sick on a given day. If they have the bad luck to wake up with the flu the same day a client meeting is scheduled or a quarterly report is due, they may feel they have no choice but to report to the office as usual.
Admirable as this may sound, there's a downside to having an obviously ill employee come into the office. There's always the risk that the sick worker will infect his or her co-workers, turning one person's cold into an office epidemic. But even if the invalid manages to contain his germs, his presence is unlikely to prove an asset to the workplace. A sick worker is rarely a productive worker. Just because an employee can drag himself in to work doesn't mean he'll be able to muster the concentration to accomplish anything. It's far more likely he'll spend the day staring at the computer screen (and extending the course of his illness).
While an inattentive office worker may be a nuisance, a sick machine operator may be a safety hazard. A woozy employee who operates heavy machinery (think forklift trucks) could compromise everyone's safety. Supervisors need to be particularly alert to the possibility that a driver has self-medicated in order to make it to work. Many over-the-counter cold remedies warn against using them while operating equipment. Though individuals often ignore those warnings, supervisors can't take this risk. Clearly, there are times when it's in the company's best interest to send a sick employee home for the day —or better yet, keep him/her from showing up in the first place. But how does a manager gently discourage sick workers from making the trek in? The workaholics may be beyond help, but for the rest, the key is reassuring them that the world won't end if they stay home. Thanks to the miracle of electronic communication, the patient may not even have to be out of the loop at all. Consider the options:
- E-mail communication: Someone who's sick in bed can still participate in daily decision-making and stay in the loop using e-mail. Unlike phone calls, which can disturb sleep, e-mail messages simply accumulate in the employee's inbox, allowing the patient to check them at his/her convenience.
- Conference calls: If a meeting is scheduled, even a bedridden worker can attend via the magic of the conference call. Though extra fees may apply if your phone system lacks conference-calling features, it's still preferable to calling in an employee who proceeds to cough and sneeze all over a client.
- Intranet document sharing: A report is due and the group needs to sit down and go over the details? That doesn't mean the homebound worker has to be excluded. With intranet document sharing, all parties can view a document online and even make realtime changes and corrections.
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