NTU researchers devise a method to decide whether or not to take a sick day

As the rise of working from home blurs the line between work and private life, it has become easier for people to work while sick. But should you?

Researchers at Nottingham Trent University who study presenteeism – working while sick – have devised a structured method for employees to determine whether they should be absent from work due to health problems.

While presenteeism can exacerbate disease and negatively impact productivity, if properly managed, it can actually play a positive therapeutic role in recovery and rehabilitation.

The process to support employees in their decision-making was created by Dr Zara Whysall, Associate Professor of Business Psychology in the Department of Human Resource Management at Nottingham Business School, postdoctoral researcher Huijun (Regen) Chen and Dr Maria Karanika-Murray, associate professor. in Occupational Health Psychology at NTU’s School of Social Sciences, who are experts in organizational behavior and workplace wellness.

Dr Whysall said: “The shift to hybrid and virtual workplaces puts even more of a burden on individual employees to make the right decisions when balancing health and performance demands, as they are no longer surrounded by managers and colleagues who could identify problems and provide support and advice.

“The most important thing that determines whether going to work while ill will be beneficial or detrimental to your health is making the right choice between sickness absence and presenteeism, given the nature of the illness and the demands of your job.

“In reality, this decision-making process happens unconsciously and very quickly, so becoming aware of the possible steps can help us think things through and become more deliberate in what we decide.”

Here, Dr. Whysall and Dr. Karanika-Murray explain the four-step process that employees can undertake:

  1. Trigger – What happened? How affected am I?

“People have different thresholds for determining when symptoms of poor health trigger a deliberation about whether to work or take sick leave. For some people and some health conditions, the threshold for deliberation can be very low, while for others it can be high, and this is likely to be influenced by our emotional states, so this threshold can also change depending on the situation, such as when we’re feeling stressed,” says Dr. Karanika-Murray.

2. Choice – Ask yourself how can you adjust your tasks in terms of what, how, when and how much you do during the working day? What is possible and manageable without harming your health?

Dr Whysall explains: “Behavioral science has taught us that when we weigh our options, we are unlikely to do so in a fully rational and objective way. Instead, the options we consider open to us will be biased by various factors such as framing effects. For example, in some organizations it depends on the culture of the company, the behavior of others, and what the leaders say and do. The consequences employees experience after taking sick leave can make them feel like sick leave is not an option for anything other than the most serious health issues. On the other hand, if a manager has recently stressed the importance of managing work-life balance, this may “trump” sickness absence as a feasible option for a wider range of health issues. »

3. Evaluation – Once you have identified what you consider to be the possible options, move on to what is desirable, both in relation to your own goals and the expectations of others. What are the perceived benefits and risks, and what do you think are the potential consequences of your choice?

Remember not to prioritize only professional concerns, such as whether your team will feel disappointed or your boss won’t promote you. Instead, be sure to also consider related concerns, such as if you take a day off, will you recover faster?

4. Feedback – reflect on how your decision served you; was it the right decision? Did it help you achieve your goals?

Dr Karanika-Murray added: “Unfortunately, it’s likely that we don’t do enough of this kind of thinking and continue to sacrifice our health for short-term gains, like meeting the last deadline, not taking falling behind on our to-do list, and avoiding potential disapproval from our manager. But feedback, through reflection, is essential to help us adapt our behavior and learn how to make decisions that work. for us in the longer term as well.

Watch Dr. Zara Whysall explain the research in this video.

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