A healthier way to deal with sick time

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Friday, February 01, 2008

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As cold and flu season takes its toll on the workforce this winter, creating an abundance of empty desks and voicemail boxes filled to capacity, take a moment to consider how your company could keep employees healthier and better manage sick time.

First, look at the bigger picture. For example, are more employees calling in sick just because it’s wintertime or has absenteeism become a problem year round? “In human resources, we see absenteeism as a barometer of what it’s like to work for a company,” says Alan Houston, the human resources director for the Doubletree Hotel and Executive Meeting Center at the Portland Lloyd Center. “If people are calling in sick when they’re not sick, it’s an indicator of low morale or issues within an organization.”

If employees seem to be taking sick time because they’re actually sick, rather than manifesting deeper ills within the organization, find ways to help them stay healthy. Houston recommends organizing health fairs, creating fliers about simple ways to avoid contracting illnesses and offering in-house flu shots.

With the increase in health-care costs, many companies are moving beyond suggesting hand washing and juice drinking by offering preventive care that comes bundled with existing insurance packages. These types of services can cover everything from mental health and smoking cessation to massage and acupuncture. Also, consider rewarding healthy behavior, such as riding bicycles to work, with kickbacks or extra paid time off.

“It might seem obvious,” Houston says, “but it doesn’t hurt to spread the message: Take care of yourself and stay healthy.”

In addition, consider how you package sick time. Are employees showing up at the office with a fever because they’re saving paid time off for a trip to Hawaii? Does HR spend too much time tracking sick notes and excuses for missed work when a day off should just be considered a day off? Depending on how your workforce is functioning, you may want to consider lumping sick time with all paid time off or separating the two.

Either way, says Elizabeth Sadhu, board member on the Lane County Human Resource Association Board, managers should accept the occasional employee mental-health day as a valid reason for missing work. “Part of health and wellness includes having a friendly work environment that promotes honest communication,” she says. That’s because ultimately, a healthier workforce means a healthier bottom line.                 

LUCY BURNINGHAM


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