Caring for a sick child will never be any parent’s idea of fun or a day free from the office, but given the wealth of germs that children come into contact with daily, how can employers keep up with parents staying home?
We do our best – parents, that is – to fend off cold and viruses, constantly barraging children with well meaning advice: “Put your hand over your mouth if you’re coughing / use a tissue, not your sleeve / wash your hands after using the toilet”, etc. All this advice isn’t enough to help even the strongest constitution stave off the most ardent of illnesses, and once one child has it, it likely to spread, be it in the classroom or around family.
Already this term, my daughter’s class is down a third of its pupils because of a rather nasty sickness bug, which unfortunately she caught, covering the after school club in a strawberry smelling vomit (yes, she had strawberry yogurt for lunch). The school has a strict 48hrs stay-away policy to minimise the spread of illnesses and I was fortunate to be able to work from home.
Working from home is a rarity for me because as a part-time worker, I fret about not being in the office on my allotted days and while I tended to my daughter I couldn’t help worrying about catching the virus and having to spend more time away from the office. Not very motherly, I must admit, but staying out of office for unplanned additional days would result in a backlog on an already busy schedule and, I imagined, a disgruntled boss.
On average, 129 million work days per year are lost caring for ill children, and that’s not including when parents fall ill. In total, days lost through illness are costing the UK economy £32 billion pounds per year.
But despite this huge cost, the number of sick days taken by UK workers is at its lowest number since records began in 1993, the Office for National Statistics has found. The trend of “pulling a sickie” may well have come to an end as fears over job security makes 30% of workers go to work when they are legitimately ill. But to what purpose?
Most schools have a strict policy but many organisations very much operate a rule of thumb (doctors’ notes notwithstanding). So when should you stay home? Online tests and apps can help – but it all depends on the seriousness and, dare I say it, violence of the illness. When illness strikes, office etiquette would suggest that you should stay home, but organisations are putting across mixed messages. Some firms are going so far as to offer incentives to encourage employees not to take sick leave – for example, last year, Royal Mail offered staff who didn’t take sick leave for six months the chance to win a Ford Focus and £2,000 in holiday vouchers.
But this encouragement of sickness presenteeism will only make more people ill in the long run and cost UK plc much more. At a time where job insecurity has been forcing 30% of staff to go to work ill, firms should be taking the stress out of staying away from the office.
My daughter made a speedy recovery, finding great amusement in practising sick noises. So: one down – another 200-plus viruses to dodge!
How best to avoid the lurgy
Wash your hands regulary
Keep away from the afflicted
Keep away from stuffy rooms
Take care of yourself: drink plenty of water, take early nights, eat healthily and exercise