Rising number of sick days and staffing shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have a negative impact on employers and staff. There are many consequences that may not be immediately obvious affecting not only organizations and employees but also co-workers, work groups/departments, family, and society. These direct and indirect costs are many of the reasons for taking measures to keep staff healthy.
In their seminal 1984 book, Effects of Absenteeism on Individuals and Organizations[i], Goodman & Atkin thoroughly explored the tangible and intangible effects of absenteeism, both pro and con. Their research has stood the test of time; however, the impact of the pandemic seems to have increased the negative while minimizing the positive. Here is how this research demonstrates the costs of sick days on individuals and organizations.
The Cost to Individuals
Being sick takes its toll on the individual who is not well. No one enjoys being ill. It may be compounded by the stress of losing pay or the possibility of being disciplined especially if time away from work is from an industrial accident. The sick employee may lose the respect of colleagues for being unreliable or somehow otherwise diminished in their eyes. When the job market is strong with many applicants for available positions, job insecurity may add to the distress of being sick.
The Cost to Co-workers
When someone calls in sick, work remains to be done. Co-workers are called on to step in and pick up an increased workload which may result in unwanted overtime, playing havoc with other responsibilities including childcare, time with family, or relaxing activities. Resentments may arise creating tension in the workplace.
The Cost to Workgroups/Departments
Teams depend on each other and can perform like a well-oiled machine. When a part of the team is missing, things can start to go wrong. Productivity decreases as other team members fill the gap or a replacement is sought. Effective coordination and smooth functioning of the group is damaged. The most valuable the sick team member, the longer it will take the group to recover.
The Cost to Management
The direct cost of absenteeism, paying for sick days, is discussed in detail in this article. When employees are out sick, there is a loss of productivity. If temporary workers are hired or overtime paid, direct costs increase. Other members of staff may complain or file grievances as more pressure is placed on them to fill the gaps.
The Cost to Families
The stress experienced by families has been felt acutely during the pandemic, more so than perhaps any time during the past 100 years. The global death toll and staggering infection rates have sent shocks around the world. The highly contagious COVID-19 virus has traveled through families, communities, and workplaces. This cocktail of hardships – illness, monetary loss, pressures around childcare and schooling, aging parents, and more, has threatened marriages and other relationships.
The Cost to Society
Even during the best of times, sick days result in lost productivity to society as a whole. That loss of productivity can be calculated. For example, “An analysis by the Integrated Benefits Institute estimates that the total cost of lost time from work due to the COVID-19 pandemic could reach $50.5 billion, marking a 117% increase from prior projections”.[ii] This loss of productivity has resulted in supply chain disruptions resulting in shortages of goods, and closing of businesses due to staff and other shortages.
If organizations had forgotten about the importance of keeping staff and customers healthy, the COVID-19 pandemic has driven home that point to remind us of what we can do to invest in wellness.
[i] Goodman, P.S., & Atkin, R.S. (1984). Effects of Absenteeism on Individuals and Organizations. [ii] https://www.ajmc.com/view/covid-19-related-lost-work-time-could-cost-employers-upwards-of-50-billion, accessed 18 January 2022.