How the pandemic is changing sick day stigma
Published Friday, May 29, 2020 6:44AM EDT
KITCHENER -- A few months ago going in to work sick might have felt like a sign of devotion to the job, but since COVID-19, pushing through the sniffles has become an almost unthinkable health risk.
Not long ago, Olivia Davitt was making minimum wage as a sales advisor at the mall.
“Probably 90 per cent of the time, if I was a bit sick, a cold or anything like that, I would just go in anyway,” says Davitt, former retail sales associate
Showing up at work sick was normal and oftentimes, necessary.
“If you called out on an eight hour shift then you’d be missing like a hundred dollars and if you had three days sick in a row, that’s a proportion of my rent is gone,” she explains.
While pushing through symptoms of a cold, like coughing or sneezing was once an option, the pandemic is changing the future of presenteeism, the act of showing up at work even when you’re sick.
“Without a vaccine, that’s a big risk we’re taking on,” says Nita Chhinzer, professor of human resources in the Department of Management at the University of Guelph.
“It takes you longer to recover, you’re more likely to experience stress and associated burn out, in addition to exposing others to illness.”
COVID-19 symptoms can include a cough, fever, tiredness, a sore throat and headache. These symptoms can also suggest various other illnesses or sensitivities.
“People are constantly making a series of very, very difficult decisions and sort of gambling. Thinking well, ‘it’s probably nothing, it’s probably my allergies,’” says Ellen Maceachen, occupational health sociologist.
On Monday, the federal government pledged it would to push provinces to provide 10 days of paid sick leave for all workers in Canada who need it.
Something the government says is important, as people return to the workplace in the coming weeks and months.
“We want people to err on the side of responsibility, just be really careful and don’t take chances,” Maceachen
Showing up at work sick was once even considered a sign of loyalty.
“Even if people have a doctor’s note, they’ll still kind of get bad mouthed. It’s basically like you’re letting everyone down,” says Davitt.
However, in a pandemic that loyalty becomes a safety concern.
“We need to change that subculture. Commitment to taking those sick days comes from the top. If the leader shows up sick to work what does that show his workers or her workers?” explains Chhinzer.
A change in workplace culture is what experts say is needed to survive this pandemic.