The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people across the world to pay closer attention to their health and hygiene.
With over 4.4m reported cases and over 127k deaths in the UK alone, people are prioritizing health and well-being like never before.
But how has the pandemic affected attitudes towards sickness in the workplace? Love Energy Savings research showed that prior to COVID-19, 80% of UK employees went to work when sick, with 1 in 10 people attributing this to employee pressure and 1 in 5 to not wanting to let their teammates down.
However, the highly transmittable nature of the coronavirus and the ‘new normal’ created by working from home, has caused a dramatic shift in employee and employer attitudes towards sick leave.
How staff and employers’ attitudes have been impacted by the pandemic
A new survey of over 1,000 UK employees conducted by award-winning business energy experts Love Energy Savings, has revealed that 1 in 5 people are now more comfortable taking a sick day compared to before the pandemic.
The research found that the majority of employees (80%) now feel more comfortable taking a sick day because they believe that their employer takes illness more seriously as a result of COVID-19.
Businesses and employees are now prioritizing the health of individual members of staff as well as the wider workforce, with 56% of employees who claim to feel more comfortable taking sick days stating that the pandemic has shown them that they need to prioritize their health.
Employee statements also highlighted the importance of preventing illness from affecting the entire workforce:
“It’s ridiculous to work through illness, and potentially spreading illness is irresponsible and completely unnecessary.”
“I feel I need to be more careful of the impact I could have on my colleagues.”
According to Public Health England, offices have had more outbreaks of Covid-19 than any other type of workplace.
Germs and viruses like COVID-19 are often spread through the air, making busy office spaces incubators where illness could spread rapidly.
Professor Catherine Noakes, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) committee, stated that the risk of contracting coronavirus can increase by up to 70% in poorly ventilated office spaces.
Recognition of the increased potential for illnesses to spread in offices has prompted both employers and staff to acknowledge the benefits of remote working.
According to new research from Love Energy Savings, the number of people expecting to work from home 5 days a week post-pandemic has doubled in comparison to the amount before the pandemic began.
With 36% of employees stating that they are more comfortable taking a sick day due to having more flexibility to catch up on missed work, it’s clear that the changing attitudes in the workplace are helping to make workforces more effective.
Old habits die hard: are some employees still hesitant to take sick days?
Despite developments in flexible working and new attitudes towards wellbeing in the workplace, some members of staff remain reluctant to take sick days.
Just under 1 in 10 people feel less comfortable taking a sick day now compared to pre-pandemic. So, what causes employees to be hesitant about calling in sick?
A perceived lack of trust is one of the biggest issues employees face today. 66% of those surveyed were worried that their employer might not believe they were ill.
An increase in working from home may well be contributing to a reluctance to take sick days. One person surveyed claimed they “can’t justify taking sick leave” whilst working from home. Another claimed they “would be expected to work from home rather than be off”.
Anxieties around job security have also led to employees feeling less comfortable taking sick days. 30% of respondents were reluctant to call in sick as they didn’t want to give their employer a reason to let them go.
Company downsizing has also impacted how employees use sick days. As a result of a reduction in staff numbers, 6% of employees were worried the business could struggle without them.
Looking to the future: what can employers learn post-pandemic?
Although some employees continue to be hesitant to take sick days, the pandemic has seen a shift in the way employees view absences.
Employees now feel their employers are more sensitive and better prepared to cope with absences, in addition to feeling they now have the flexibility to catch up on work.
This working environment can ensure that sickness absences don’t need to result in a loss of productivity and less nasty germs will circulate through the office, which is always a plus.
For businesses and employers, it’s important to ensure staff remains comfortable taking time off when sick post-pandemic. Employers whose staff are currently working from home will need to be aware of any changes in attitude once staff return to the office.
If employees feel they need to be seen to be working at the office to come across as effective, this could lead to a reluctance to use sick days when required. This in turn could both decrease productivity and increase the likelihood of germs spreading in the office, potentially resulting in a higher number of sick days taken overall.
It is therefore important for managers and business owners to make sickness policies clear and communicate with staff who require time off. This is vital to creating a safe and happy working environment.
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