Martyr culture keeps sick staff at their desks

May 06 2004 by Brian Amble Print This Article

HR managers are creating a ‘martyr culture’ in UK workplaces where employees struggle into the office despite being ill and spread germs to their colleagues.

A survey of 110 HR professionals by business information firm Croner, found that 88 per cent felt that a heavy cold was not a good enough reason for staff to take time off sick.

But this flies in the face of advice from doctors that going to work with a cold risks spreading the problem to colleagues. Medics say that workers should stay in bed, take medication and plenty of fluids to speed up recovery.

The typical adult suffers two or three colds and takes an average of nine days off sick each year.

Richard Smith, employment specialist at Croner, said that the fear of taking time off work is adding to the stress and anxiety felt in the workplace and often has a worse affect on productivity than an individual who takes a day or two off to recover.

“Working late, long and hard is ingrained in our culture and taking time off for having a cold can be viewed as a weakness, or even skiving.

“From a health and safety point of view, if employees are bringing their germs to the office, they are inevitably risking their colleagues becoming ill too, which has greater consequences to productivity than if the employee had taken a day or two off to recover,” he said.

Earlier this the year the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that three quarters of workers - so-called 'Mucus Troopers - had gone to work despite being ill. The most common reason people gave the TUC for going to work when too ill was that 'people depend on the job I do, and I didn’t want to let them down'.

"It is essential that employers do not instil a feeling of guilt or dread when an employee feels they need to ring in sick, and make staff feel comfortable about taking time off if they are genuinely ill," Richard Smith said.

"This is likely to have a positive effect on team morale and the overall health and wellbeing in the workplace, and therefore boost productivity."