Flexible working may see the end of sick days

Flexible working may see the end of sick days

Sick days don't work so well when you can login from home. It's not easy calling in sick if you are going to work from home that day anyway.

14 October 2021

Sick days don't work so well when you can login from home. It's not easy calling in sick if you are going to work from home that day anyway.

It’s true that before the pandemic most of us would have felt pressured to go to work if all we had was a sniffle or a cough. However, if we were really sick we could stay at home and recuperate. We could log off and not think about work.

That’s not possible anymore. Times have changed. We have the technology to work from our sick beds. Our work life and home life are now seamlessly merged. It's flexible, but it’s not as liberating as it could be.

That’s what I want to discuss today because I have found myself in some strange situations. I've had video conference calls with clients suffering from Covid symptoms while they are still working. Strange though it may seem, the boundary for sick days seems to have shifted without us knowing. There is a danger they could even disappear.

Working while sick during the pandemic

I don’t have any data for Switzerland, but there have been some very good studies done in other countries.

For instance, the UK's Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development recently carried out a survey on sick days. They found that 83% of UK employees witnessed colleagues working while sick over the last 12 months – this was during the pandemic.

During a similar survey conducted by the same organisation in 2010, this figure was far lower at 24%. In a separate survey by the UK's Office of National Statistics, the share of people taking sick days in the UK had dropped to their lowest levels since 1995.

Across the pond in the US, the numbers were not so different. In a survey by OnePoll, seven out of 10 people admitted that they had worked while feeling unwell.

But what if sick days could be a new secret recruitment weapon?

So, let’s ditch the title of this article. Let’s turn this around. Yes, it’s true that flexible working is not so great for sick days. We have already established that. But what about recruitment?

This is where it gets interesting. Right now, we are beyond questioning the value of flexible working. Every company needs to offer flexible working if they want to add to their employer brand. It’s an absolute necessity if they want to attract talent.

But that’s the problem. If every company offers flexible working as standard, then it’s not much of a differentiator. This means companies need to go further.

So, here’s an idea. Why not reinvent the sick day?

Let’s make sick days more flexible

The reason for doing this is very simple. It shows how much an employer takes the well-being of their employees seriously.

The official corporate definition of a sick day can be expanded. This could mean for instance adding mandatory mental health days to help reduce stress levels among the workforce. It could also include time off to care for a sick family member, such as a child. Why not even rebrand the very name itself – instead of calling it a “sick” day, let’s call it a “wellness” day.

Perhaps we are going too far. But I don’t think we are. This is all about adding to the employer brand.

The goal here should be to raise the level of physical, mental and emotional health among employees. Incidentally, this doesn’t just make you more attractive as an employer, but it also helps boost productivity within the business.

So, how far can we push this?

We can offer other perks to incentivise healthy living under a wellness initiative to reduce the number of sick days actually taken. Some companies are already doing this as part of their employment package. I’ve seen subsidies for sports equipment and gym memberships offered. I’ve even seen heavily discounted spa treatments provided.

So where does that leave us?

I think what we need to do is rebrand the sick day. Let’s make sick days better for both employees and the employer. Flexible working is supposed to be liberating and good for our well-being. Why can’t sick days be the same?

Luca Semeraro

Head of Badenoch & Clark
Zurich, Switzerland

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