30 Jul 2018

Sick? Don't soldier on at work, stay home

1:11 pm on 30 July 2018

A healthcare insurer is warning that sick workers continuing to go to work may be doing more harm than good.

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Photo: 123RF

New Zealand loses about $1.5 billion every year to workplace absences, according to a 2017 study by BusinessNZ and Southern Cross Healthcare.

Chief people and strategy officer at Southern Cross Health Society, Vicki Caisley, said the impact of going to work with a cold could be even higher.

"We are spreading our bugs especially across small teams and making other people unwell.

"But the other thing we are doing is delaying our own recovery. We come in when we think we are near recovery. But we sometimes get worse and have to take more time off."

Ms Caisley said Southern Cross had a strong wellbeing programme to send people home if they were unwell but cultures can vary from business to business, leading some people to feel they need to come in.

"People are turning up because they think they need to."

Asked how to change culture in a workplace so workers feel comfortable asking for time off, she said it was a two-step process.

"The first is changing your own mindset, so you are not worrying what other people are thinking if you phone in sick. Then there is the business leadership piece about driving the culture in a business."

New Zealand has a statutory minimum of five days paid sick leave after the first six months of continuous employment.

"Five days is not a lot," said Ms Caisley. "Many people have young children in daycare who may be picking up bugs, so they look after them. Then you pick up the bug, as well. Those five days don't go far."

Southern Cross has 10 days sick leave and staff can accrue up to 20.

Businesses need to look at their welfare packages for staff, she said. And if you're sick, don't go to work.

"Be honest. If you're sick, you're sick. Stay home and get better faster."

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