The Loop

Invasion of the “Wickie”

Filed under: Absenteeism/Presenteeism

In Australia, they call a person who comes to work sick a "wickie." Once your workplace is invaded by wickies, productivity will suffer from the spread of infection, increased potential for injuries, and just plain bad work. Here in the U.S., we call it presenteesim.

Whatever you call it, it's a global issue. One study revealed that British companies suffer from a lack of productivity because workers frequently show up to work exhausted from staying up late at night to play video games, watch TV, and enjoy late-night drinking – so much so that their job performance is adversely affected. According to a recent poll, about 40% of British workers admitted that they "coast" through the day, only finishing easy tasks. And that's if workers bother to show up at all after a sleepless night. Each year in the United Kingdom, the first Monday in February is unofficially known as National "Sickie Day." Hundreds of thousands of workers call in sick on that day, claiming everything from poor health to miserable weather to post-Christmas blues.

In Australia, employees take an average of 8.93 sick days each year, with illness and family responsibilities cited as the most prevalent reasons. A recent survey identified a strong correlation between turnover and absenteeism. In other words, when workers are not satisfied with their jobs and are considering quitting, they are more likely to take sick days. Moreover, the study suggested that employees who don't enjoy their jobs are more likely to have poor mental and physical health also leading to greater levels of sick leave).

However, one of the primary differences between the U.S. and abroad is that in some countries, the governments mandate sick leave benefits. Another difference is that days off for illness may vary based on an individual's age. In Poland, for example, the government requires employers to provide up to 33 days a year of paid sick leave to workers under age 55 (presumably because they have more dependents to care for), while those over 55 receive only 14 days.

In some countries where the private and public sectors share the expense of sick leave benefits, the longer an employee is sick, the lower the employer's share of the cost. For example, in Austria employers must pay a 100% of a worker's salary for one month of sick leave. However, after one year of sick leave, the employer's share of paid benefits is reduced to 15% of salary.

Interestingly, some countries that offer comprehensive benefits and higher income replacement rates (e.g., Austria, Luxembourg and Germany) tend to have lower incidences of workplace absence than countries with limited benefits (e.g., Czech Republic, Slovakia and Sweden). So perhaps enabling and encouraging employees to take time off when ill without socio-economic consequences is the key to keeping workers healthy. It is certainly an effective strategy to curtail contagion.

Unfortunately, today's workers are plagued with the fear of losing their jobs due to downsizing, restructuring or simply not being "present" at key meetings. They believe they must be at work even when ill. Therein lies the potential for an onslaught of wickies during this cold and flu season.

Bear in mind that each passing year brings more – not fewer – reasons to be wary of sick employees. This year's threats include antibiotic-resistant superbugs, new strains of the flu, and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). And hope the global community learns to control the recent outbreaks of Ebola and Tuberculosis before they reach this country.

Welcome to the global era: An age of contagious and pervasive illness.

The Loop Archives

Open All | Close All

Health Care Reform
Training & Leadership Development
Performance Management
Attraction & Retention

Request More Info


RSS Subscribe via RSS

Join Our Newsletter

Thank you for subscribing.