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Sick Time: Should Employees Work Remotely When Under the Weather?

These days, the world of work is more flexible than ever. The growth of cloud technology has created a world where employees can stay connected to the office, crucial tools, and peers wherever they are. This means even if your team members can’t physically visit the workplace, they can still complete essential tasks and remain productive.

Unfortunately, the ability to work from home can also make it difficult for employees to determine when they should take a day off. When staff members are unwell, they may be tempted to log into accounts remotely and tackle everyday tasks from their homes.

Encouraging your staff to work remotely when they’re unwell might not be the right approach. Here’s what to consider when deciding if employees should work when sick.

Working When Sick: Considering the Context

As with most things in today’s evolving world, determining whether your employee needs an entire day off or not depends heavily on the situation. In some cases, when workloads are light and employees have subtle symptoms, working from home can be a good option.

For instance, if your team member is recovering from a broken leg but functioning well from a cognitive perspective, working from home reduces the stress of trying to get into the office each day and can help speed up recovery. However, some situations can make working from home difficult or even impossible.

If an employee is suffering from something like the flu, the priority should be getting well so they can return after they are fully recovered. Trying to return to work too quickly is not healthy and may result in more mistakes if they struggle to deliver a consistent level of customer support. Customers may not enjoy trying to communicate with someone who is constantly sneezing or coughing on the phone.

Trying to avoid the disruption of your employee taking a sick day isn’t worth putting your customer service standards and satisfaction levels at risk. It could also mean your employees end up pushing themselves too far and burning out, which increases the risk of further absenteeism.

Remote Work or Time Off? How to Decide

Because the circumstances of a day “out sick” can differ for every employee, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to determining whether it’s better to work from home or rest. In many circumstances, employees should be able to decide whether they’re well enough to work. However, if your team members struggle to disconnect from the office, they may need extra encouragement to take time off when needed.

Employees and supervisors or managers can customize remote workdays for people feeling under the weather. For instance, an agent with a cough might be assigned to respond to customer messages rather than answer the phone and work fewer hours than their colleagues. To ensure you have the right strategies in place:

  • Communicate with your staff: Make sure you talk to your employees about their options and work together to determine the best outcomes. If your team members struggle to function as expected when ill, they and your company will often benefit more from a sick day. It’s important to ensure your employees know they’re safe to take time off when needed.
  • Keep an eye on metrics: If your employees are determined to continue working even when they’re in recovery, keep an eye on their performance. If their results or customer satisfaction scores begin to dip, this could be a sign they’re pushing themselves too hard. Reaching out and encouraging your employees to get some rest can protect your business from the negative results of having an unwell and underperforming employee.
  • Distribute the workload: Even if your employee feels somewhat able to work from home, it’s often a good idea to reduce their workload. Distributing and delegating tasks that may be challenging for your team members can help to reduce the risk of extended sickness and mistakes. For instance, you could assign more simple errands to your unwell employees until they start feeling better.
  • Encourage self-awareness among staff: Having the right company culture in place can make a massive difference to your team members. Encouraging staff to know what they can and can’t accomplish when they’re unwell should prevent them from holding themselves to unreasonable standards. The less compelled your team members feel to continue pushing themselves, the more likely they will end up with happier staff.
  • Have plans in place: Having strategies in place to deal with sick employees’ side effects is crucial. You should know how you will re-assign tasks and deadlines to different staff members to keep the team as productive as possible. This will help reduce unnecessary downtime and should take some of the pressure off your employees.

The world of remote work can make it difficult for employees and employers to determine when a day away from work is the best option. Working with your team to ensure you handle sickness correctly should benefit both you and your workforce.

*Please review your HR policies before making any decisions regarding advice to employees on when they should or not work.

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