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There’s a culture of mistrust around sick days, making it a touchy subject. Many employers feel that employees misuse their sick days, calling in when they’re not sick to run errands, or because of plans with friends or family. And while there might be some truth to this—in 2017 a CareerBuilder survey found that 40% of workers called in sick when they weren’t—the benefits to providing paid sick days far outweigh the disadvantages.

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Sick Leave Reduces Turnover

High turnover is costly. Businesses can lose around two-times an employee’s annual salary when we account for the cost of recruitment, onboarding and training.

High turnover also affects a company’s culture and employee morale. Potential recruits will look critically at a business that’s known for having a revolving door of in-and-out staff.

Sick days reduce turnover. Studies have shown that companies that offer paid sick leave see a reduction in employee turnover somewhere between 3.61% to 6.43%.

Low turnover maintains consistent productivity, boosts employee engagement and morale, and builds a sense of unity between staff and managers.

Tackle Presenteeism Head On

Presenteeism—when employees show up at the office, but aren’t really there whether due to illness, exhaustion or stress—results in a loss of productivity, impacting an organization’s bottom line. Research shows that in the US, presenteeism can cost around $150 billion, in Canada, it’s about a $6 billion problem.

Part of what causes presenteeism is that employees are afraid to take time off because their illness may not be as visibly obvious as, say a cold. For employees dealing with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, it can feel easier to just show up than take time off. But the same holds true for employees suffering from the common cold.

Fighting presenteeism in the workplace starts with management who must lead by example—when employees see team leads and managers coming in to work while sick, it can make them feel self-conscious about requesting time off for their own illness, particularly one that’s not obvious.

Further to this, some employees are afraid to take sick days because of their overwhelming workloads. Managers need to be aware of this as work overload can lead to stress which can in turn lead to anxiety, which in turn can result in presenteeism. Ensuring employees have manageable workloads, as well as providing contingency plans for when employees are away, including off sick, can reduce this type of workplace stress.

Offering sick leave and encouraging staff to use it when they aren’t well helps to eliminate fear. It reduces the anxiety employees feel when they need to take time off due to illness.

Prevent Colds and Flus from Spreading

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) there are three ways we can help to prevent the spread of colds and flu:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Stay away from people who are sick

When employers don’t offer sick days, they run the risk of one sick employee infecting the rest of the workforce. When more employees are sick, you increase the likelihood of lost productivity due to presenteeism.

What’s in a Name?

Maybe the key to sick leave lies in the name? Rather than calling it sick leave employers could consider those extra 3-5 paid days as mental health or personal days. The name change could effectively reduce the employee’s anxiety about taking a day off if they’re not allocated for sickness only.

Regardless, the benefits of paid sick leave are monumental. When employers provide staff with benefit offerings that consider their personal health—both mental and physical—employees see that they’re valued, and just as important as the business' overall bottom line.


Cathy Seto

Cathy Seto is the assistant vice president of GroupQuest Benefits Resources Inc. She has dedicated a lifetime in group benefits administration as well as sales. She is relationship strong, passionate about high level of service, and well respected in the industry. Cathy is also a chauffeur, cheerleader, controller, counsellor… the list goes on. The shortest version? She is a Mom. When it isn’t about her brilliant kids, it’s all about learning, growth, giving back, fitness, and boating. Oh yes… boating floats her boat.

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