Why You Should Call in Sick More Often Than You Think, Even if Working From Home
By Alison Collins
The dramatic rise in working from home due to coronavirus looks likely to become a permanent feature for many organizations, at least for part of the week. But while this brings many benefits to both employees and employers, it's also likely to lead to more people working while ill. This is not good for people's health in the long term and will require companies to actively encourage their employees to take time off when necessary.
Working from home allows employees to balance caring responsibilities and other non-work commitments with work demands, as well as reducing commute times and decreasing job-related stress. The benefits to organizations include increased productivity, and a greater flexibility from staff to meet employer needs such as conference calls outside core office hours.
People who work from home also tend to take fewer sick days than office-based staff. Many actually appreciate the ability to work from home while ill, as it allows them to keep on top of their workload, while avoiding the strain of commuting to the office or working a full day. It also prevents workers spreading contagious illnesses to their colleagues – something at the forefront of everyone's minds at the moment.
So working when ill is not always bad. Known as sickness presenteeism, the decision is influenced by a number of factors. These include your company's sickness absence policies (and how they are applied by managers), the employee's financial pressures, whether there is paid sick leave, high workloads, tight deadlines and job insecurity.
When voluntary, sickness presenteeism can have other positive benefits. If employees have a chronic or long-term condition and want to work despite illness, supportive working arrangements such as flexible working or homeworking can help them stay in work. This also allows companies to retain staff.
A number of longitudinal studies – where researchers collected data from the same workers over a period of time – found that working while sick can increase the risks of poor health in the future. It also increased the risk of workers having to take more time off due to sickness 18 months later.
Sickness presenteeism also has consequences for your mental health. Research shows that if someone had worked while ill in the previous three months, their psychological well-being took a knock. People also felt down or irritable, or found it hard to make decisions.
For some, this lasted another two months. Meanwhile, other research has found that working while sick increased the risk of depression two years later, even though the workers were not depressed at the first measurement point.
Role of Companies
Companies generally want to keep employees' absences due to sickness as low as possible. Presenteeism is often viewed positively if the alternative is sick leave, as employees will get some work done and their role will not need to be covered by co-workers.
But when researching this issue, I've also found that taking sick leave is not a decision that people take lightly. In one study I worked on, 60% of the participants had attended work while unwell in the previous 12 months. People reported working through a wide range of health conditions, some serious enough that managers had to intervene and send people home.
Working at home makes it harder for managers to see when employees are ill – so they are less likely to tell people to take sick leave. In order to keep sick employees from working, companies need to actively encourage employees to take time away from work.
Similarly, a recent study found that workers diagnosed with acute respiratory illness or influenza during the 2017-18 influenza season were more likely to carry on working if they could work from home than those without the option. Perhaps not surprisingly, workers who received paid leave worked fewer days while ill.
A key aspect of research into sickness presenteeism is that often the seriousness of the illness is unknown. In many cases, employees can still work with minor illnesses such as colds and it will not harm their health in the long term. But workers and employers need to be aware of the potential health risk of working through health conditions that require rest and time to recover.
Companies who concentrate on controlling sickness absence in the short term may be encouraging sickness presenteeism in the longer term and risk prolonging an illness or making a health condition worse. Just because we can work from home when we are ill, it doesn't always mean that we should – and that includes logging on to our laptop or checking emails from the sick bed.
Alison Collins is a reader in leadership and management at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Disclosure statement: Alison Collins was part of a research project exploring sickness presenteeism in the work place funded by the BUPA Foundation.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Teri Schultz
Europe is in a panic over the second wave of COVID-19, with infection rates sky-rocketing and GDP plummeting. Belgium has just announced it will no longer test asymptomatic people, even if they've been in contact with someone who has the disease, because the backlog in processing is overwhelming. Other European countries are also struggling to keep up testing and tracing.
Meanwhile in a small cabin in Helsinki airport, for his preferred payment of a morsel of cat food, rescue dog Kossi needs just a few seconds to tell whether someone has coronavirus.
<div id="bfda0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c60b1a0dedbedbe5e0ce44284aff852f"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1308390775328251906" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Covid-19 dogs started their work today at the Helsinki Airport at arrival hall 2B. Dogs have been trained to detect… https://t.co/nw4mrw6eJM</div> — Helsinki Airport (@Helsinki Airport)<a href="https://twitter.com/HelsinkiAirport/statuses/1308390775328251906">1600779644.0</a></blockquote></div><p>If it were left to Kossi and his pals, crowds of potential virus carriers could be cleared in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost with none of the physical discomfort that accompanies the current nasal swab test based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method.</p>
No Human Nose Needed<p>A dog can sniff a cloth wiped on a wrist or neck and immediately identify if it comes from someone who has contracted the virus as much as five days before any symptoms appear which would lead a person to go into isolation. "A dog could easily save so so, so many lives," University of Helsinki veterinary researcher Anna Hielm-Bjorkman told DW, who says their testing has shown an accuracy level of nearly 100%.</p><p>It was originally her idea to see whether Kossi, a talented disease-detection dog, could redirect his skills in sniffing out mold, bedbugs and cancer to detecting the new virus just as it started to spread in Europe. "It took him seven minutes to figure out 'okay, this is what you want me to look out for," Hielm-Bjorkman said. "So that totally blew our minds."</p><p>Susanna Paavilainen, the executive director of the Wise Nose scent-detection foundation and the woman who saved Kossi from euthanasia in a Spanish shelter eight years ago, immediately started retraining her dogs to find the coronavirus.</p><p>Miina, who used to track a young girl's blood sugar levels by scent, quickly came on board, along with two others already working in disease detection. In all, they hope to train 15 dogs in the first phase.</p><p>Hielm-Bjorkman said once they discovered the new capabilities, while the normal academic procedure would be to test, publish and get peer-reviewed, their first instinct was to get the dogs into service. "[Researchers] who are actually publishing," she noted wryly, "are not at the airports."</p>
Wags, Not Wages<p>But for that, they needed permission and ideally, some funding. Vantaa Deputy Mayor Timo Aronkyto, who is also responsible for airport security, saw the benefit straight away. "It took me two minutes," he told DW.</p><p>However, his funding options were limited to about $390,000 total for the four-month pilot project aiming to prove that results from the dog tests are at least as accurate as the PCR test. Anyone who tests positive at the voluntary canine site is requested to go to the medical unit for confirmation.</p><p>The interest of Aronkyto, a trained physician, is rooted in both health and wealth. "Our testing at the airport costs more than 1 million [euros] (USD $1.2 million) a month at the moment," he said, explaining he expects that to go up to €3 million (USD. $3.5 million) per month in winter. "These dogs would be much cheaper," he pointed out.</p><p>He's optimistic support will grow as data from the current pilot project accumulates, explaining there is already work underway to change Finnish legislation so eventually sniffer dogs would have the same "authority" as customs dogs.</p><p>Aronkyto anticipates one animal performing both functions in the near future. He plans to continue this level of funding from his city budget into next year but that doesn't train new dogs nor expand the capacity beyond the four that split shifts currently at the airport, even as infection rates rise.</p>
Helsinki Hesitates<p>Notably, however, the Finnish government has not signaled it would like to pick up the program itself, despite a huge surge in publicity and, as Hielm-Bjorkman and Paavilainen emphasize, interest from other countries. Travelers have been eager to participate, waiting in line more than an hour at times.</p><p>Finnish ambassador in Ramallah, Palestine, Paivi Peltokoski, praised the experience after a recent trip but, apparently, her enthusiasm is not overly contagious.</p>
<div id="d9823" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="61d382f115fe66a44eb793d9ebee3d94"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318564228450615299" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">I was tested negative by two #coronadogs upon arrival at the #Helsinki airport in #Finland. Later a medical test ve… https://t.co/cGlWQn8DJb</div> — Päivi Peltokoski (@Päivi Peltokoski)<a href="https://twitter.com/PaiviPeltokoski/statuses/1318564228450615299">1603205184.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"If the government would see this already as something that they would believe in," Hielm-Bjorkman said, she could envision training hundreds of dogs, stationing sniffers at concert halls or sports matches or elderly care homes. She adds there's a need for a "paradigm shift" for both medical professionals and the public.</p><p>Usually it's doctors telling patients if they're sick, she explained, and "here it's a dog handler."</p>
Little Political Will on German Project<p>This situation is not limited to Finland. In Germany researchers also <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/german-sniffer-dogs-show-promise-at-detecting-coronavirus/a-54300863" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced promising results</a> with canines <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-german-military-training-sniffer-dogs/a-54062180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">detecting COVID-19</a>, but no dogs have been used anywhere so far. And then, says Professor Holger Volk of the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover, there has been insufficient political will or funding to move the project forward, something he called "very troubling" especially with a resurgent infection rate.</p><p>"When we started this whole project, we we did it because we wanted to help to stop the pandemic," Volk told DW. "It's really has been a very frustrating ride. I have had a lot of naysayers in the whole process. If I wasn't a very determined person, having done a lot of research, I would have probably stopped it."</p><p>He agrees with Hielm-Bjorkman's assessment that "it's just not in the perception of doctors that dogs are able to do this precise work." But he also echoes her faith in the vast potential of their discovery. "If you had a dog who could sniff every day quickly your cohort of workers, for example," he said, "think about the impact. You could continue having a workplace."</p><p>Speaking of workplaces, Susanna Paavilainen is starting to think if Finland doesn't want to unleash the dogs' potential at home, she and Kossi might accept one of the many requests from all over the world to provide training. "We can move because Kossi likes warm weather," she says, petting her star sniffer.</p>
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