Every manager’s been there. A member of your team is off sick, and you feel like it’s really affecting productivity. Maybe they were the last person to talk to a key client or prospect, and you need their input and feedback. Or maybe they’re the only person who knows a certain password, or who knows how to enlarge images on the photocopier.
In any case, the temptation to contact an employee when they’re off sick can be irresistible. But really, contacting an employee when they’re off sick is a very bad idea.
1. It’s Invasive
Sick leave might be an example of an unplanned absence, but you should still treat it like you would any other kind of paid leave. And you wouldn’t even dream of contacting an employee when they were on holiday, or on maternity or paternity leave, would you?
If an employee has called in sick, once they’ve let you know, they’ve done their bit. You should expect nothing more from them except for them to rest and recuperate. To contact them, for whatever reason, might be viewed as a breach of privacy.
2. It Shows a Lack of Trust
Say you’re not contacting a sick employee because you need their input. What if you just want to check up on them?
Some employees might like this. If you call them just to see how they are, they might take it as a sign that you truly value their health and wellbeing.
But more likely, they’ll see it as a sign that you don’t trust them.
If an employee’s condition lasts longer than seven days, they’ll need a doctor’s note to sign them off work. At this point, you might have to start making contingency plans to manage a period of long-term sickness absence.
But employees have a legal right to self-certificate for up to seven consecutive days. So long as they call in sick and give you a good idea of what’s up and when they expect to return to work, you should have no reason to doubt them.
Unauthorized absence is certainly an issue. But calling employees when they’re off sick to check on them certainly isn’t the way to solve it.
3. It May Interfere with Their Recovery
For many conditions that might cause an employee to call in sick, the best treatment is rest and relaxation. Anything that disturbs the peace and quiet may disturb recovery.
It’s stressful to think about work when you’re supposed to be recuperating. Call your employees when they’re off sick and they may feel placed on the spot like they have to prove themselves. It’s not good for recovery, and it’s no exaggeration to say that calling an employee while they’re off sick could transform a short-term issue into a long-term crisis.
4. It’s Bad Leadership
Calling an employee while they’re off sick might suggest a lack of trust, and it might make their condition even worse. But this isn’t the only reason why doing this might be viewed as bad leadership.
It might be the case that the absent employee is the only person who can help you with a certain situation. But really, you should be running your business in such a way that you’re prepared for every eventuality.
If things are allowed to reach crisis point just because a single employee calls in sick, then it may suggest that you haven’t quite got a grasp of things. And how can you expect anyone to follow a leader who’s so unprepared?
5. It Might Not Even Solve Your Issue
Let’s say you have an emergency on your hands. Some managers may vow to only contact employees who are off sick in emergency situations.
What counts as “an emergency” is a discussion in itself. But again, what does it say about your company and your leadership if the only way out of an emergency situation is to disturb the one employee who happens to be off sick on a given day?
Beyond this, what if you disturb that sick employee’s peace, only to find that they can’t even help you with your issue, to begin with? You’ll have invaded their privacy, you may have interfered with their recovery, and you won’t even have a solution for your problem. The worst of all possible worlds!
6. It’s Bad for Employee Wellbeing
A major part of any effective employee wellbeing program is a conscious effort to promote a good work/life balance for all employees. The idea is that work is never allowed to get in the way of life, and that employees are able to switch off and focus on the things that make life worth living.
Suffice to say that contacting employees while they’re off sick is not good for the work/life balance. If your company is committed to employee wellbeing, you’ll make it a policy to never disturb absent employees.
7. Some Employees Just Need to Rest
Have you ever heard of a duvet day? It’s where employees decide that they need a bit of “me-time”. They’re not necessarily unwell, but they definitely need a break.
We recently took an in-depth look at duvet days. Weighing up the pros and cons, it seems they can be an integral part of any good workplace wellbeing program.
The sleep specialists at Time 4 Sleep conducted a survey of more than 1,000 UK adults. 61% admitted having taken a duvet day to recover from a hectic work schedule. The top three most common reasons given for taking duvet days were, in order, tiredness, anxiety, and stress.
So maybe an employee has called in sick because they need a break, for mental health reasons. How do you think they’re going to feel if you contact them during their much-needed rest?
8. It Adds Pressure
Whether you intend to or not, when you contact an employee who’s off sick, you’re sending them a message. You’re essentially saying that work is more important than their recovery and that you can’t really function without them.
Some employees may take this to heart, and endeavor to return to work as soon as possible. They won’t get the rest they truly need to recover, and they may come back to work long before they’re really ready to do so.
This could lead to further absences down the line. The sick employee could fail to make a full recovery, so they could be off again before you know it. And if their illness is infectious, returning to work too early could cause other members of the team to succumb. Again, what would have been a minor inconvenience could soon spiral into something much more serious.
9. It May Make Employees Less Likely to Take Time Off
Let’s say word gets around that you contact employees when they’re off sick. Think of all the things that this might suggest: That you don’t trust employees, that you don’t believe in recuperation, that you still expect employees to be on-call even when they’re not feeling at their best…
This could discourage some employees from ever taking any time off, ever. And yes, this might help to reduce instances of unauthorized absence. But it might also make some employees believe that you don’t respect privacy, and the right to take a break now and then.
This will be bad for morale and motivation, and employees who never take breaks are likely to get stressed in the long run. Productivity’s going to take a hit, too.
10. There Are Better Ways to Manage Absence
Hopefully, by now we’ve established that, if you feel the need to contact an employee who’s off sick, then something’s gone wrong.
Maybe you haven’t taken sufficient steps to prepare your company for unplanned absences. In this case, you need an absence management policy.
Or maybe your type of company culture is making too many employees sick, stressed or resentful.
Taking the time to understand the underlying causes of absences in your company can help you to make changes for the better. Talking to your employees about their absences might give you some insights into the sort of changes you can make that could reduce instances of unplanned absences in the future.
But the time to have this talk isn’t while the employee’s off sick. It’s when they return to work.
With our absence management system, you can make return to work interviews a routine part of your absence management policy. Plus, advanced absence reporting features will help you to track the absence patterns in your company, helping you to spot patterns and identify areas where you can make changes. Finally, sickness recording, and Bradford Factor scoring will help you to ensure that no individual absence will ever truly inconvenience your company.
In short, with our absence management system, you can safeguard your company against the problems caused by unplanned absences. This means you’ll probably never even feel the need to contact an employee who’s off sick.
Katrina is edays' own People Director with significant UK and international experience in delivering people strategy and value-adding HR solutions across a range of organisations and sectors (including Arriva, Boots, Rolls Royce, the utility and charity sectors). Katrina has over 20 years of experience in Human Resources and is CIPD qualified.