To continue, please use a supported browser.

Chrome Logo
Firefox Logo
Microsoft Edge

Be a better office during the season of sick days

box of tissues and mug with glasses on table
The Robin Team
Published on

From the right sick leave policy to calling out sick.

It’s about that time of year, from January to March, when everyone gets sick and it spreads faster than the latest outbreak on the Walking Dead. We took a look at how companies, managers, and employees approach the cold and flu season. News flash! We don’t do a great job managing our sick days, from the top down. So, we’re sharing some ways we can all keep ourselves healthier and more productive, from the executive decision makers to managers to the sick employee.

How companies handle sick leave policies

How companies handle sick leave policies

First off, flexible work is an easy solution to helping us stay home when we’re sick. Flexible work schedules and results driven environments are on trend (you’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again). Beyond specific sick leave policies (which are still helpful!), these workplace philosophies allow employees to be treated like adults.

When employees are fully responsible for their output, they know when they need to take a sick day and feel comfortable and empowered to do so.If we’re talking about actual sick leave policies, sometimes the legal requirement can help with that. Many countries have mandatory paid sick leave laws that protect and encourage employees to take a sick day when sniffling. Egypt was apparently the original sick leave creator.

Already in 1500 BCE, at least some of the workers who built the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs received paid sick leave as well as state-supported health care.- Wikipedia

The US isn’t quite on par yet and only requires companies to allow unpaid sick leave for up to 12 weeks. So at least people are still promised their job, but they miss out on the dough in industries such as retail and restaurants. Luckily for US office workers, we expect companies to have at least one week of paid sick leave upon starting. Sometimes paid sick leave is packaged into an unlimited time off policy or into vacation and floating holiday policy. Whatever the policy is, most of us should be safe job-wise to take a sick day if we’re full blown sick.

The threat of presenteeism and how managers can help

Someecards - It was brave of you to come in and give us all the flu

Presenteeism: working while sick. There are many reasons why someone might feel that they have to go to work when they’re sick. But, there are also ways managers can help promote an environment where people call out sick whenever necessary.Why employees feel that they have to work while under the weather:

  • People are worried about losing out financially
  • They’re concerned about losing their job (more often paranoia-based)
  • Workers are too devoted and passionate about their job or even workaholics
  • Employees want to show off to their colleagues or boss
  • They are worried about a project or workload piling up

But their managers can help influence the mindset around taking a sick day:

  • First off, the manager can help try and change policies that don’t support paid sick leave
  • The supervisor can also reassure workers that this is the right thing to do and no one will lose their job for it
  • Promoting staying home while sick as a high-performance indicator is also key, especially for the overly driven employees
The best kinds of employees stay home when they’re truly sick and contagious.
  • If showmanship is part of the reason, managers can also speak one on one with employees to course correct that attitude.
  • Managers can also shift workload priorities amongst other teammates or onto themselves if needed. And if the team is too small for the workload to be shared more, then it’s probably time to hire more people.

How the office environment affects sick employees

Open offices are great! But pair them with flexible work schedules and generous time off policies. When you have an open office, germs can spread more easily.Also be sure to tech out your conference rooms or have rolling AV carts so that when team members are sick, the healthy folks can still stay in contact with them through strong video and audio conferencing. Although, some colleagues may not want to be on video with their PJs and stuffy nose, so take it easy on them. Encourage smart germ control with hand sanitizer and hand washing guidelines posted in key places. Viruses can live on a surface for a loooong time.

Company tip: offer free flu shots and hand sanitizer in the office.
Hand Sanitizer Man, beloved superhero of every workplace in the world.

Hand Sanitizer Man, beloved superhero of every workplace in the world.[/caption]

What the individual employee can do to prevent getting sick

  • Wash your hands: Wash your hands for 20 seconds. My mother says to sing the entire “Happy Birthday” song.
  • Don’t touch your face: Germs can’t hit our system if they only stay on our hands and then are washed away.
  • Arm your immune system: Pump up the vitamin intake during cold and flu season, following daily serving suggestions. Eat healthy and drink water.
False alarm: You don’t actually get sick directly because of cold weather. Instead, you get sick from being forced indoors.

How do you know when you’re too sick to go to work?

Usually, if you have a common cold, respiratory flu, stomach flu, or a sinus infection, you are contagious and should stay home. When in doubt, speak with a medical professional. However, we found a helpful chart to help you self-diagnose:

What's Making You Sick? Cold Flu or Sinus?

Why you need to take a sick day when you’re sick

Calling out sick is a good thing when you’re saving you and your colleagues from yourself. A survey by the National Sanitation Foundation found that 26% of Americans always show up at work when they’re sick, and the next 34% wait until they see the full gamut of symptoms before staying home. That means more than half of us are causing more harm than good for ourselves and for others by being sick at work.

Ingredients for a Sick Day v2
  • You put your own health at risk when you work while sick because you’re not letting your body recover properly.This could cause a sickness to worsen or evolve into a more serious condition. Viruses like strep throat and the flu can be fatal.
  • You are putting your colleagues and their families health at risk.Illnesses like the flu can be severely dangerous for the younger children and older grandparents that may be living with colleagues. It’s not worth putting them at risk when you come into work. Most of our jobs aren’t saving lives, and by not coming in when sick, you could actually save a life.
No one’s a doctor until they’re sick. Then suddenly we all have PhDs in infectious diseases and can pinpoint the exact moment we’re no longer contagious. I know I’ve walked into the office looking like I just came from a coffee date with Death and promised everyone, “I sound worse than I am."- Jenni Maier,
  • You’re also not going to be very productive when you’re spending half the day in a tissue or rubbing your temples. Studies have even shown that a cold affects attention, behavior, and cognitive function.
  • Save yourself time in the long run. Do you want to be miserably sick in the office for 3 days and then take 2 sick days because you haven’t rested? Or do you want to take 1 sick day, beat the illness, and be back at it again in nearly full health the next day? If you succumb early on to a full resting day complete with lots of liquids and nutrients, you’re far more likely to recover faster.
Tip! If you’re really sick, don’t just call out sick to stay home and work all day. Your mind and body may need a full day of pure rest.

Ok, ok. I’ll stay home! How should I call out sick?

If you’re new, ask your teammates or boss how everyone prefers to be notified when someone will be taking a sick day. We use Slack. At my last job, a quick email or text message was sufficient. Some managers prefer that you call on top of everything else, so if you’re faking it (which is not cool!), ready your fake cough.

Now take care of yourself!


Well, at this point, you’re probably kneedeep in balled-up tissues and cough drop wrappers -- hopefully on your couch instead of at your desk. All thanks to Gary in Marketing, who spread his germs all over the office coffee machine.

We hope you get well soon and have learned some important guidelines, both as a company promoting a healthy office environment with great sick leave policies and as the employee trying to be productive while juggling a sick day. I think we can all agree that all offices can be better during cold and flu season.If your office is plagued with the conference room fever, get the cure.

Two people walking and talking in an office

featured report

The Science Behind In‑Person Productivity at the Office

Does your office collaboration need a reboot?

Find out if your workplace strategy is a hit or a miss.

office map
an employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshot
Does your office collaboration need a reboot?

Find out if your workplace strategy is a hit or a miss.

office map
an employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshot