How much money can you afford to throw away? Most business owners would emphatically answer, “Zero!” Yet Canadian businesses lose about 2.4% of payroll—$16.6 billion in 2011, according to Statistics Canada—to sick days, not including indirect costs like finding replacement workers or delays to projects. It might seem surprising, then, that the best way to reduce the cost related to illness is to encourage employees to take sick days.
Research published in the American Journal for Public Health shows that providing even just one or two paid sick days to employees reduces the spread of infections in workplaces by 25 to 39%. Intuitively, this makes sense; if an employee stays home, they don’t share their germs, which means they reduce the number of sick days their colleagues have to take. One employee taking two sick days is far less costly than five or six employees taking one each. And the risk is real. Contagions spread rapidly in workplaces: being cooped up with a sick person for a long time, with everyone using the same equipment, the same recirculated air—not to mention that some people don’t cover their coughs and sneezes—it’s small wonder people talk about colds making the rounds at work, as if being sick were just another job duty being re-assigned every week. When a sick worker spreads their sickness, they multiply the harm they do in the workplace. So if a sick worker stays home, they actually reduce the number of sick days their colleagues have to take—a net benefit to employers.