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Sick season is a time for employers to put words to action

Written on Jan 26, 2023

By Jessica Salerno-Shumaker, OSCPA senior content manager  

While many employers talk about valuing employee health and wellness, they are put to the test during flu and cold season.  

“There are so many opportunities for companies to demonstrate, ‘Here's what we plan to do if somebody is sick. And we're going to do the best we can,’” said Steve Black, senior manager of human resource services at Brixey & Meyer. 

“Companies make these statements about their culture, such as, ‘We're flexible, we're family friendly,’” he said. “But a lot of times there’s never any action that makes people feel those are true.”  

While almost every organization now claims a supportive culture for employees, true colors reveal themselves when employees inevitably start to get sick and call off work, often during the winter months.  

But Black said one of the outcomes of the pandemic has made many organizations more mindful and proactive when it comes to managing sickness and how to prepare for it.   

Cross-training is a good business practice, he said, but especially helpful during times when more people are calling in sick. It should be done regularly due to updates or changes to processes.  

“How are you preparing other team members to step in to do somebody else’s job?” he asked.   

This doesn’t mean taking on every single task an employee does when they are out, but instead, understanding the core responsibilities of the role and how to keep those efforts moving forward. This way, that individual has been given the time and space to get better, Black said, and the most important aspects of their job have been taken care of while they’re out.  

Technology and remote work are other essential aspects when many people are out sick or simply feeling a little off. Someone might have a lingering cough or cold that they don’t want to pass to their coworkers, but don’t necessarily feel bad enough to call off work. With the right technology, they can work from home and monitor their symptoms while also getting work done.  

Having a strong culture and policies that support employees is also essential to people taking the time needed to recuperate, Black said. If the leaders of the company and managers take time off while they’re sick, the rest of the staff will feel like they can do the same.   

“It might even be as simple as telling the employee you’re going to communicate with clients that things will be delayed until you get better,” he said. “And that the company is going to do whatever they can to help you when you get back.” 

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