For many, the term “sick day” tends to conjure up certain images. For some, a sick day is a euphemism for playing hooky and skipping work to go fishing, play golf, or nurse a hangover. Others have to be on their death bed or so under the weather that they can’t even make it into the office. And for others still, taking a sick day is the responsible thing to do if there’s even the slightest possibility they’re harboring a contagious disease that could be spread to colleagues.
The COVID-19 pandemic, and the widespread shift to remote work that it triggered, has threatened to forever change how sick days are treated by employees and employers alike. It’s possible the concept may ultimately fade away entirely.
Should ‘Sick Days’ Be a Thing of the Past?
“Sick days used to mean resting, not working,” writes Bryan Lufkin in an article for BBC Worklife. “Now however, more employees are logging in from home as they fight illness—after all, if people are remote already, why take time off?” In the age of remote work, however, there’s increasing pressure to work while sick. “Polling data from the US suggests two-thirds of workers feel remote work adds pressure to work while sick; other polls suggest the same proportion feel obliged to clock in remotely, even if they’re sick,” Lufkin continues.
Or, Should Employees Have an Opportunity to Rest and Recharge?
This dynamic is interesting in that it focuses only on one of the two key reasons employees take a sick day: to avoid infecting coworkers. That’s the professional, ethical, externally focused reason. But employees also take sick days to rest and get better. This is beneficial for their own recovery, but it also benefits their teams and employers by allowing them to return to full productivity more quickly.
While there’s increasing pressure for employees to work while sick in the age of remote work, there are still valid reasons for employees to take a sick day if they’re so ill they physically need the rest or are simply unable to perform their jobs. It’s likely, therefore, that this necessity will help the sick day survive even in the post-COVID “new normal.”
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.