With Flu Season Under Way, Companies Should Consider Telecommuting to Combat “Presenteeism”
With this year’s flu season underway, employers are increasingly concerned about the risk sick employees pose to the workplace. Flu season always brings absenteeism, but employees who come to work when they aren't feeling well may actually cost companies more than if they stayed home.
A. Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement firm
in Chicago, said the problem escalates with a phenomenon called "presenteeism,"
where certain employees might be sick with the flu and come into work. "This
poses a real risk, because then the stalwart, sick worker infects a host of
others," Challenger said.
While the direct hit to the bottom line isn’t immediately evident with presenteeism, there is the added problem of spreading illnesses to other employees who in turn either call in or come in sick.
In the 2005 Unscheduled Absence Survey conducted by CCH - is a leading provider of human resources and employment law information, 48 percent of employers surveyed report "presenteeism" is a problem in their organization. According to the findings, presenteeism is an issue for employers not only because of employees’ lowered productivity, but because they make healthy workers sick. Of the companies surveyed, 22 percent of employers who thought presenteeism was a problem said that they allow employees to telecommute when they are sick.
"According to Lori Rosen, a workplace analyst for CCH, “The idea of the ‘hero worker’ that manages to punch in for a full-day’s work, despite illness, needs to be discouraged. Being in contact with contagious individuals jeopardizes the health and productivity of all employees. Employers need to emphasize to employees that while they need them at work, they first want a healthy workplace." "The best a company can do is try to prevent the flu and other infectious diseases from spreading in the first place, and then to develop a sound contingency plan to implement in the event of an outbreak," Challenger said.
Challenger said that employers may want to use the flu season as an opportune time to promote telecommuting. "Set up a SWAT team of people, with representatives of each department, who can work from home when the flu strikes." He added that the telecommuter unit should be sent home the instant the flu strikes the workplace and be ready to take over all duties assigned to a department hit hard by the virus.
a spokesperson for the Society of Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va.,
said companies may want to consider encouraging employees who feel they cannot
stay away from the office when they are sick to telecommute. Rather than have
them use their office computers and infect everyone else around them, Jorgenson
explained that by telecommuting, these employees can continue to be productive
without making others sick.
Telecommuting Can Help Maintain Productivity During The Flu Season
Telecommuting has proven effective for permanent work from home arrangements, and it also provides a needed solution in a variety of special circumstances of work interruptions such as: severe weather, power outages, transportation disruptions, as well as flu seasons.
Having a telecommuting plan for work continuity is effective, efficient and practical strategy serving both short-term and unplanned situations, which minimizes the impact of particular workflow interruptions.
Tips for Employers
Bad weather conditions, injuries and illnesses seem to be times when employees get the chance to telecommute - not necessarily by choice or true desire to telecommute, but as the only way to get their work done. Even if you prefer your staffers not telecommute full-time, it could be an option for a variety of special circumstances including:
Among the steps employers can take to help ensure work productivity and minimize unplanned disruptions:
By having employees telecommute from home during the winter flu and weather season, business disruptions can be minimized while a certain level of services and productivity is maintained. Arrangements made ahead of time for telecommuting in particular situations allows companies to plan their response and manage inevitable occasions when the normal work condition is interrupted. This makes it possible for companies to assure continual operations and maintain organizational productivity.