The Stress of Sickness


A recent study found that workers who called-out sick experienced stress upon their return, and their co-workers were more stressed by the absence as well.

More than half (53 percent) of full-time workers surveyed, said their co-workers’ unplanned absences left them with more work to do.

In addition, almost six in 10 women (58 percent) and almost half of the men (48 percent) say they felt additional stress after returning to work from an unplanned absence.

A lot of people feel that a day off is a good thing. Coming back and really understanding that more than half of the workers feel additional stress was an unexpected result. But it’s an understandable response, as for many employees, their workload often remains the same; they just have one less day in which to complete it.

The same can be true for co-workers. It doesn’t mean the work doesn’t have to get done, so someone who is at work has to pick up the slack. Employees and associates are feeling as stressed about it as management is in trying to address the workload.

The amount of stress depends on the organization and the job. A hospital, for instance, needs a certain number of nurses and other staffers to do each day’s required work. When someone is absent, someone else must do the work anyway. It does affect other workers and it is stressful.

For other types of jobs, such as programmers, managers, and supervisory positions, it’s probably not as critical if somebody misses a day or two because they can make the work up and juggle priorities. In certain jobs, the work itself, the timing of it, is more flexible – whereas for other kinds of job, you are basically there to cover a certain volume of work that comes through the door and get it done.

HR executives should make sure their organizations have contingent plans for absence and they should try to manage absence carefully so employees are only taking legitimate absences and not taking the time off when they don’t really need to.

Some organizations have labor pools of floaters who can fill in as needed during absences. Some large departments, such as call centers, deliberately tend to overstaff a little bit so managers are assured that the work can get done. Some depend on overtime or temporary services.

Also helpful are absence-management tools that allow organizations to track absence and look for patterns, as well as educating HR and managers to ensure workers are offered assistance or intervention, when needed.

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