Skip to content

Too Sick to Commute? | News For The Workers Comp Industry

Recently, in Been Robbed (June 2022), I noted some avenues of dissatisfaction with the strictures of the common workday. Although labor has been lobbied and pressured for various accommodations in the past, such as the eight hour work day, breaks, and a lunch period, there is a new generation on the scene and some of them at least are expressing frustration with some aspects of the modern workday.

That is all well and good, as debate itself is good. See Free Speech and Due Process (June 2022). We perhaps might all do well with more debate and discussion about the manner in which our world works (or doesn’t). This is nowhere more newsworthy than the perspective of remote work. The challenges and benefits of this have been in the news persistently through the Great Pandemic. And, have been featured here in posts such as Loss and Change (May 2020) and Presenteeism and the Coming Divide (June 2021).
Many feel as if they are more productive working at home. Business News reported on findings that substantiate that. However, much of the evidence is based upon surveys of people who express personal and subjective perceptions of their effectiveness and productivity. Management may be more of a challenge, according to the Harvard Business Review. Thus, others have been more definitely in the “it depends” mindset, as noted by the Chicago Booth Review. The debate rages on, and most I talk to in the workers’ compensation community have both positive and negative things to say about both office and virtual. Perhaps the “it depends” is the best answer?
Elon Musk got the world of work discussing it again recently. According to Geekwire, I have sent emails to employees suggesting

“He wants them working at least 40 hours a week in the company’s offices. Those who seek an exception to that policy will need approval from Musk himself.”

Nothing like needing permission from the CEO to test sincerity and chutzpah (what employee sends a request for something to the CEO?). Davero?!? (sorry for lapsing into Italian, “Really?!?”) Later, he announced that he planned a 10% reduction in workforce due to fears of the direction our hyperinflated economy is heading (many predict a recession in 2023 is likely as a result of the massive borrowing and spending through the pandemic).
Some who have “returned to the office” have noted that there is an expense associated with it. They have worked at home for two years, avoiding expenses like gasoline, eating out, and more. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) published an article focused on The Sky High Cost of Returning. There is certainly some element of inflation at work. CNBC recently noted gas prices at an all time high. This inflation situation is clearly unprecedented in the lifetimes of all but the oldest of us. Most of the workforce is of the millennial generation (1981) and after, so they were spared the economic policies of President Jimmy Carter. And, in June 2022 we set yet another record for the last 40 years; there appears no end in sight. The longer-term impacts of recent inflation has as yet not really manifested in medical costs, and other segments, which may be the next shoes to drop.

So, there is some love for remote work. There are management challenges. There is a new generation taking the helm of the world of work. There are questions raised as to why we do it “this way,” in various contexts. Will the world of remote work remain or expand? Will the basket of legal labor protections? Will the hard-fought benefits of breaks and a lunch break?

In another article, the BBC recently reported that “Before the pandemic, ill workers quite often showed up in the office, coughing and spluttering away as they tackled their workloads.” Their choice was to work wounded (to everyone’s risk and potential detriment) or to take their leave. For some reason, people are reluctant to take their leave. Some might suggest that the leave is there for precisely the purpose of personal care in the event of illness. By working ill, the employee may render others at risk, including the obvious co-workers and also those encountered on the commute.
Why not take the sick leave? I had one corporate VP explain to me that her company pays the unused sick leave in a lump sum each December. So, a worker who does not take their leave gets a nice year-end bonus check. While that may be an incentive, so might the challenge of presenteeism, see Presenteeism and the Coming Divide (June 2021). There may be a real benefit to being in the office and being seen, chatting with the boss, being on the team.
The BBC suggests that the sick day is no longer needed for a great many employees. It says that “fortunately, sick employees can often work remotely, keeping their germs to themselves” (and their leave days in the bank). This may be coincidentally true in education for old saws like snow and hurricane days. The BBC suggests that in a world of presentism concerns and managers that may see the point of Mr. Musk, there may be questions as to how ill one should be before taking the virtual alternative. That is an interesting perspective, and consistency even within a company may become challenging.

The article also questions whether the employee “working away” from the couch at home are appropriately restricted in a manner that will facilitate recovery. Regardless, the perceptions of workers seem to support that in the new virtual probability (not all jobs can be done remotely) there is a pressure to telecommute instead of taking the sick day. The statistics noted by BBC are notable, among them “two-thirds of workers feel remote work adds pressure to work while sick.”

Will employers lean toward allowing the remote/virtual sick day in the new world of work? Will the employee feel pressured to be in the office (“at least 40 hours a week”)? Will the next generation find the strictures of sick days as annoying as some have recently found the lunch break? Will there be complaining and even restructuring to eliminate the “sick day model” and as a vestige of antiquity related to the in-person office space? Will there be any paradigm that “fits all” in the event of illness or injury?

And, while we are at it, perhaps we could all agree on what the office temperature will be? That appears to be yet another matter of dispute and disagreement in the working world. I have seen more arguments about the thermostat than any other office accoutrement, including the contributions for the coffee service. Is consistency in any regard even possible in the workplace of today?

In short, there is a lot to work out in the world of work. A new generation is taking over and we all need to learn to work with them and their ideas. It is a new world post-Grand Pandemic, and we all have much to consider and contemplate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.