In Sickness and In Health

Hopefully, your employees are very motivated people…and if not, they probably are not the ones you want working for you anyway. One problem with such highly motivated people is that they tend to work when they should not, like, for example, when they are sick. It is bad for them, and it can be bad for your business.

Employees who are ill are not going to be 100% focused on their work. That is dangerous for assembly line workers, acceptable for far too many bureaucrats, and debilitating for knowledge workers. Get them to stay away from work, rest up and feel better, so you will get their full capability rather than some diminished capacity.

Of course, coming into work does not just hurt them, it puts the rest of your team at risk too. It is bad enough to have one person down with the flu; you need to try to keep it from spreading.

And if your employees work directly with clients, you need to avoid getting your clients sick. Nothing will turn them off to your firm faster than to come in, get sneezed on repeatedly, then suffer with symptoms in the week that follows.

How do you keep motivated people from coming in and putting themselves and everyone else at greater risk? If you are in a field where they can work at home, the answer is obvious, and many creative fields do allow you to work remotely (though they probably should be resting, especially when they first get sick). Not everyone, though, has that luxury, and they need another answer.

The issue of sick leave is a tricky piece of that. Many employees prefer to use their sick leave as paid time off for other things, then come to work when they have a minor illness. How do you overcome this? Consider not having sick leave. Some organizations do not have sick leave, the employees simply stay home if they are sick. They are not charged time off, they do not have to dig into annual vacation if they are sick longer than the company policy says they are supposed to be, and they do not use sick days for non-illness activities…because there are no sick days. You may think, “well, then my employees will just abuse that policy and take off a lot of days they don’t need” but you would be surprised. Remember, the good employees are the motivated ones who work too much rather than too little, and if you have got employees who would abuse this and avoid work, do you really want them on your team anyway? If it makes you feel better, add a little clause to the policy that says that anyone who does abuse the policy will be fired.

Illness in the workplace is a bad thing. Do what you can to limit the effects when people do get sick. You cannot avoid it, of course, but you can minimize the disruption it causes and end up with the best work your employees have to offer.