Skillsoft Blog

“Atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down.”

By Tara O’Sullivan

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I spent some time in the Boston office recently, and there were two people with colds. I have an industrial sized Purell bottle on my desk. Even with constant “Purelling,” I still felt that cold as I got on the plane home.

I accept that being sick is human nature. And to be clear, I’m thinking about the common cold, the flu, or a stomach bug, and not chronic illness or conditions.

And while these illnesses may be minor, the cost factor is major.

What with doctor’s expenses and the cost of medications, the flu alone racks up a bill of roughly $4.6 billion in the U.S. alone.

Granted, some workers are not entitled to paid sick leave, and I understand why in such situations there may simply be no other choice but to go to work sick.

But I’m thinking of the situations where employees are given paid sick leave and yet do not take advantage of this.

Why is that?

Are we afraid that our jobs are at risk or is it that when we return there is simply so much to catch up on it isn’t worth it?

And yet, working while sick not only means your colleagues are exposed now to these germs/infections, you are in fact, costing your company money.

One survey by Wakefield Research found that an alarming 62% of American workers have gone to work sick. This practice of ‘presenteeism’ is not only infuriating, it is costly. As noted in a 2016 Forbes article, studies have shown that the total annual cost of lost productivity from presenteeism is estimated at more than $150 billion. Employees who are “out of it” tend to make more mistakes, spend more time on tasks, and struggle to make sound decisions.

And then as if things weren’t bad enough, I heard a news item recently whereby Amazon in Germany is rewarding workers who do not use many of their paid sick leave days with a bonus worth up to as much as 10% of their monthly wage.

Now who is going to stay home when the stakes are even higher?

And what makes things even trickier with this move, is that the bonus is only given if the entire team keeps their sick paid leave low.

Talk about peer pressure? I can only imagine how that would make someone feel, now not only do you feel lousy, but you must go to work, spread your germs to your teammates knowing that they won’t be able to take time off either.

No, actually, I can’t imagine the pressure.

Solving this will take longer than I’ve got here.

But there is a fast and simple solution that might make a good starting point.

Since most infectious diseases are transmitted by touch, the CDC recommends hand hygiene as a crucial factor in the war against germs. Soap and water works just as well as a hand sanitizer and the key to success lies with frequency and time of at least 20 seconds or the length of “Happy Birthday.”

Tara O’Sullivan is the Chief Creative Officer at Skillsoft.

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