Saturday :: Nov 13, 2004

It's Enough To Make You Sick!

by pessimist

I'm feeling a bit under the weather as I write this, something I've been feeling for over a day now. I'm supposed to go into work tonight, but I don't quite feel good enough to do so. Ergo, I will stay home. I'm not like the 'Presenteer' described in this article:

Got Flu? Stay Home!

"Presenteeism," the opposite of absenteeism, signifies a tendency that The Early Show's Dr. Emily Senay says could help spread flu around the workplace. Senay points out that people who feel they just can't leave the job (that if they leave for one day, everything is going to fall apart) wind up costing the company more money in the long run in lost productivity, and they spread illness around to everyone else in the office. So it may amount to too much dedication!

Male Bovine Excrement! "Too much dedication" isn't why most people go to work sick! THIS is why:

Sick days dwindle, disappear for many

About half the full-time American workforce gets no paid sick days, according to the Department of Labor. Part-time employees and those in lower-wage service and blue-collar jobs are the least likely to have paid sick days. "They're in low-wage jobs and living paycheck to paycheck," says Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families. "They have to go to work sick or lose a day's pay or, in some cases, lose their jobs."

Now I happen to have sick days, so I don't have to be concerned with that problem. But there are many who do:

Sherry Allen, 35, of Indianapolis was a waitress in a restaurant and had no access to paid sick leave. She worked with strep throat and bronchitis. She says she was fired for taking too much time off to care for her son; she is currently unemployed. "It's hard to have that fear of losing your job," says Allen, a mother of four boys, ages 18, 16, 12 and 9.

Some employees say they feel pressured not to take time off. Tanya Frazier says she was fired from her job as an executive assistant after taking time off to care for her 9-year-old daughter, who had the flu. She says she had used all the nine sick days allowed by her employer. "My boss said, 'You're too dedicated a mother and not dedicated to your job,' " says Frazier, 39, a single mother in Topanga, Calif., who now is a temp.

This is what employers have been doing to health benefits:

Employees have fewer sick days. Paid sick days have been one of several benefits curtailed by employers in recent years. The number of employers providing paid sick leave dropped from 82% in 2002 to 76% last year, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Employees are less able to save up unused sick days. Cost-cutting employers are increasingly moving away from benefit programs that allow employees to accrue sick days. Instead, they are turning to a use-it-or-lose-it approach.

Fewer employees have access to back-up care. The number of employers offering emergency back-up child care or child care when employees have sick family members has dropped from 14% in 2001 to 9% this year, according to SHRM.

So why is this such a big problem? Why should employers reverse the trends they exhibit toward abandoning their employees to the health care-less wildeness?

Sick workers cost companies billions

The Harvard Business Review reported that millions of U.S. workers come to work ill, resulting in what could be $150 billion in lost productivity to employers.

Called "presenteeism," the problem could worsen this winter as flu season approaches and the flu vaccine grows scarce, said CCH, an Illinois company that researches, reports on and develops software about employment laws. CCH's 2004 survey on absenteeism revealed that 39 percent of 305 U.S. employers report that presenteeism is a problem because of reduced productivity and the spread of ailments.

"With a serious flu season looming, the idea of the hero worker who manages to punch in for a full-day's work, despite illness, needs to be discouraged," said Lori Rosen, a workplace analyst at CCH. She said companies that rely on disciplinary action to control absenteeism and abuse of sick time are, unknowingly, encouraging presenteeism.

Even so, disciplinary action is used by 91 percent of the companies polled.

Employers try to combat loss of productivity because of 'presenteeism'

The issue is simple: Workers plagued by presenteeism can spread illness to others and lower productivity. Health care consultants and employee assistance programs are launching products to try to quantify and lessen the effect of illness and health problems on today's workplace.

Employers have done about all they can to reduce health expenses. Now they're taking a broader view of health care beyond insurance costs -- and presenteeism is critical to that view, said Zachary Meyer, senior vice president of business development for Cigna Behavioral Health in Eden Prairie, Minn.

To capitalize on the concerns, Cigna this week launched a Web-based tool designed to audit a company's losses from presenteeism and to get to the root causes. The assessment starts with a 243-question worker survey. The ensuing audit will tote up the dollar losses for the company. Then it's a matter of finding better ways to engage employees and keep them healthier on the job.

But the employers aren't going to go down easily!

Preventing the Collapse of Employer Health Care: What You Can Do

"We have three years to lower health costs or bye-bye jobs," said Joe Fortuna, medical director of the Delphi Corporation in Troy, Michigan. Steven Moffat, medical director for the city of Indianapolis, said that burgeoning healthcare costs are "looming as a catastrophic event in our culture." And Dee Edington, professor of health behavior and health education at the University of Michigan, opined that if something is not done within the next 5 years, "employer health care will be gone."

Those speakers and others acknowledged the problem facing American employers as they try to deal with and absorb multiple years of double-digit premium increases, with no relief in sight. Global competition does not allow passing along pricing increases. Morale will not allow simple pass-throughs to employees.

Although this "doom and gloom" was the background for the symposium, the real focus of the conference was how employers can avoid the crisis by reducing their healthcare costs through "health promotion activities."

Many of the speakers bemoaned the fact that there is little hard science to prove the cost/benefit relationship of specific programs. But there was near universal agreement that good nutrition, good health habits, and moderate exercise can bring about dramatic reductions in a population's healthcare costs. There is little question that employers can have a positive impact on employee behavior. Done well, employer-sponsored programs have been successful in helping employees make better choices.

Blame the victim again! Push off all of the responsibility onto the employee!

Sure, employees can be their own worst health hazards. But this article above presents a way for employers to avoid providing real health care benefits - make it all the employees responsibility. Providing a cheap 'incentive' program doesn't cost as much as real health care benefits, but might soon be considered 'sufficient' in the eyes of the Bu$h (mis)Adminstration, thus leaving employees in the lurch one more time.

‘Flu rage’ can be catching

Sixty percent of employers polled by the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va., had planned to offer flu shots this year. But most of those plans have been scrapped because of the vaccine shortage. The upshot: as much as $20 billion in lost productivity, says Harvard health economist David Cutler.

So what is the employee to do?

In their paycheck this month, Nassau County, N.Y., employees received tips about avoiding the illness and a warning to stay home if they are sick. Patricia Iannucci, the vice president of communications for Long Island filter manufacturer Pall Corp., said, "We have advised employees about hand washing and to stay home if sick."

Now, nothing presented here strikes me as being excessive, but neither does it let employers off the hook for not providing sufficient sick days and health care benefits. Employers have a role to play in the wellness of their employees. Here's one view:

Fewer health benefits may aid spread of flu bug
Experts say employees without paid sick leave may work despite being ill, possibly spreading the virus

Employers' decisions in recent years to trim worker health and wellness benefits could increase the number of people who catch the flu, creating a drag on the economy, public health advocates and economists say. Thanks to a sluggish economy and rising health care costs, employers have been cutting sick days and wellness benefits, and offering health insurance to workers at the lowest rate in eight years, recent nationwide human resource and benefits surveys show.

Advocates say, more than 59 million American workers -- nearly half the U.S. workforce -- have no paid sick leave, analyses of federal Labor Department surveys show. That could force sick workers to choose between staying home without pay or going to work sick and possibly infecting others, they say.

"The trends are going in the wrong direction," said Jody Heymann, associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and founding director of the Project on Global Working Families. "You have this collision course that is going to be an issue this flu season."

Those prospects, in part, have led experts to suggest that the flu-shot shortage could cost American businesses billions of dollars in lost productivity. In Oregon, such a drag could exacerbate an already weakening economy. The state has one of the nation's highest unemployment rates, which experts say makes workers less inclined to call in sick. "This is an instance where there really are public health ramifications of not having better health benefits for workers," said Vicky Lovell, a study director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington, D.C.

The industry with the lowest rate of paid sick leave -- 4 percent -- is the hotel and food-preparation industry, where workers can easily spread germs to customers, public health officials say. Shari's Restaurants previously offered a flu-shot clinic at its Beaverton [OR] headquarters, but not at its 97 restaurants across nine states. The company expects most of its 4,000 workers to follow state health department rules requiring hand-washing before touching food, said David Archer, the company's vice president of marketing and communications. "Otherwise, like everybody else, we're hoping for the best," Archer said.

More American workers are losing health benefits, surveys show. Employers have curtailed other benefits in recent years as well, including wellness initiatives such as gym memberships. Even so, human resource experts say, employers are increasingly worried about the costs of "presenteeism" -- employees coming to work sick, particularly in a tight job market. For now, employers don't appear to be panicking.

Portland-based KinderCare Learning Centers Inc., has issued no formal directives to its 27,000 workers other than weekly reminders about its hand-washing policies, spokeswoman Jill Island said. The company serves 115,000 children, who are particularly vulnerable to flu, at 1,230 KinderCare and Mulberry centers in 39 states. "It's sort of like business like usual," said Island.

Nothing like caring for the public health by making it impossible NOT to spread disease! Makes you wonder why they ever went after Typhoid Mary!

But there are efforts out there to get employers educated in the necessity of public health - at least within their own workplaces:

Conflict Presenteeism: Are You Losing Out?

Billions of dollars in lost productivity is a result of a new phenomenon called presenteeism, according to a recent report in the Harvard Business Review. Presenteeism refers the employees who go to work ill when suffering from the flu, cold, depression or other ailments. Those employees impact productivity and actually spread illness. They sense, whether from their employer or from the tough economy, they will suffer a personal loss to their perceived reputation if they don’t come to work. Call it the ‘good trouper’ mentality.

Although the study cites physical illnesses, workplace conflict is also a factor. Who hasn’t taken a ‘mental health day’ when faced with work tensions or a difficult co-worker or boss. It’s common for employees to avoid conflict until it escalates to a level that seems unmanageable. Feelings of frustration and helplessness grow so large employees become what I call MAW - Missing at Work. Their bodies are present but their minds are gone, obsessed with what to do or say next to get out of the conflict. No real work can be done.

Missing at Work carries the same financial losses as presenteeism. Discontent and mistrust spread as readily as the flu when a team is infected with conflict, making it very difficult for individuals to concentrate on business goals or effectively work as a team.

What’s the solution to conflict presenteeism? Be proactive. Here are a few suggestions to keep your workplace healthy.

* 1. Assess your culture. Does it avoid conflict?

* 2. Create a culture where employees understand that they are expected to address conflict early and resolve it collaboratively.

* 3. Hold both parties responsible for contributing to a solution, regardless of who’s at fault.

* 4. Provide coaching and training so employees have the language and skills needed to communicate clearly, listen well and find workable solutions.

Controlling conflict presenteeism can refocus your employees and create a much more pleasant and innovative workplace. And that’s nothing to sneeze at.

OK, slightly off the topic, but the basic premise still stands - employers need to work with their employees on health-related issues. Here's one employer who definitely shows real concern:

Local Companies take Steps to Prevent Office Sickness

Officials at Cisco Systems want its employees to stay home if they're sick. "If you're sick and you're able please don't bring it in to the office we have the technology to allow you to do work at home."

Researchers say about 60% of worker illness is a result of other people toughing it out and spreading germs in the office. It costs companies big bucks. That's why Cisco has given employees like Jennifer Murrey the option to work from home. "Typically when you are working in an office with not a lot of ventilation or circulation of the air it just goes from one cubicle to the next."

This year, Cisco workers were sent an e-mail with a link to the CDC and were asked to avoid contributing to presenteeism. With three kids in the house, you won't hear any objections from Murrey. "It's critical that I can remain productive for Cisco and stay close to them because when they're sick they want they're mommy."

We aren't likely to hear much about this from our own government, so we borrow the spouse of a foreign leader to plead our case:

Wife of British prime minister calls for more family-friendly policies

Cherie Blair, wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, called for governments and businesses to adopt more family-friendly policies to help all workers -- but especially women -- balance work-life commitments. "This is not as, it's sometimes painted, just a woman's issue. Everybody should be able to enjoy a full life outside of their work," she said in a speech to the Women's Economic Club in Detroit. Blair blamed inadequate access to "decent, affordable child care" and "the culture of presenteeism," which holds that good workers spend more time "chained to their desks."

If Orrin Hatch passes his Constitutional Amendment making it legal for foreigners to become President, can we run Cherie Blair?

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pessimist :: 7:08 PM :: Comments (4) :: Digg It!