Weekend Poll Results: Assistants Are Stalwarts, Even When Ill

With thanks to all who participated, here are your responses to my question … Do you go to work when you’re sick?

13% of you made it through 2017 without any illness or injury

Well done to this 13% of you! You’re obviously not in the majority, though. With this new year barely six weeks old, 49% of respondents have already been impacted by sickness or injury.


Only 27% of you typically stay home when you’re ill

That’s right. 61% of respondents reported that they typically show up to work despite being sick, while another 12% may or may not stay home, depending on the degree of illness and/or contagion. These percentages are despite the fact that 88% of respondents reported that their compensation packages provide for sick leave.


So why do assistants show up to work when they’re ill?

Here, I gave readers a series of statements and asked you to select the single response that best captured your rationale for working when you’re not healthy. The top reason? A sense of pride/toughness, and that you can manage.

This was very closely followed by the next three reasons, which I suggest speak to the mindset of many assistants. Are you ready? Here they are: “There’s no one to cover for me”, “Workload will suffer” and “People count on me being there”. I included these options because I know our world, but what does it say when these are the dominant factors influencing such decisions?

I do know that workload suffers when we’re away, and it can be challenging when there’s no one who can step in and cover during your absence. When it comes, though, to showing up at the office sick on the basis that people count on us being there, are we perhaps being our own worst enemies? Could our colleagues and clients not manage, and might people in general be better off if employees didn’t show up to unwittingly spread viruses?

When you have a look at the data below, you might be interested by some of the comments. Two readers specifically mentioned HR practices that influence their decision making, while another expressed concern about job security.


Shockingly low levels of sick days taken in 2017

Shocking, or impressive; interpret it as you wish. It’s acknowledged that engaged employees don’t typically take a high number of sick leave time, but consider this: 25% of respondents took no sick days at all in 2017. 11% took only a single sick day, while 20% took two sick days and another 13% took three sick days in 2017.

In fact, only 15% of respondents reported that they took more than five sick days last year. Less than 9% percent of respondents were impacted by health issues that saw them spending more than 21 days off work in 2017, and some readers who did (or are about to) take extended leaves offered comments about the health issues behind such absences. I’m sure I’m not alone in sending all such readers best wishes for solid recoveries and good health.

If it’s bad enough that you’re wondering if you should stay home, you should probably stay home

So says Rochester, Minnesota doctor Pritish K. Tosh, who just happens to work at the Mayo Clinic as an infectious diseases researcher. Dr. Tosh was quoted in a November 2017 New York Times article by Daniel Victor. In the article, Victor highlighted the pressure people feel to show up for work even when they feel awful. He also highlighted advice from doctors that “… workers with the flu or a cold should use sick days far more often than they do.”


How to minimise exposing others to  germs and viruses

The same New York Times article offered common sense reminders of how to reduce potential to pass on infectious illnesses to others, at home or in the office.  After checking out the data from this Weekend Poll, below, you may want to click here to check out the article.

The article includes a cringe-worthy 1940 high speed photo (taken by MIT professor Marshall W. Jennison in 1940) of a sneeze in progress. The caption highlights “… the spasm which sprays droplets from mouth and nose at ‘muscle’ velocities of up to 150 feet per second. Most of the moisture drops quickly evaporate, leaving thousands of germ-laden particles in the air.” Oh, and the impressive sounding and stalwart person featured in the article? You’ll never guess what she does for a living!


I thought of inserting a photo of someone sneezing, but decided against it for the simple reason that you’ve no doubt already seen your share of such people in your own home or office this winter! That, and then there’s the fact that this platter of Vitamin C-laden fruits is much more pleasing on the eyes.

 Have you been sick or injured in the last year?

  • 69% of respondents: Yes – sick (Note that this includes the 2% of respondents who selected “Other” and noted specific reasons. One noted heart issues and another person noted major surgery.)
  • 14% of respondents: Yes – sick and injured, at different points 
  • 13% of respondents: Happily, no!
  • 4% of respondents: Yes – injured


Have you been sick or injured in the last quarter?

  • 61% of respondents: Yes – sick
  • 30% of respondents: Happily, no!
  • 6% of respondents: Yes – injured
  • 3% of respondents: Yes – sick and injured, at different points 


Have you been sick or injured so far in 2018?

  • 51% of respondents: Happily, no!
  • 43% of respondents: Yes – sick
  • 5% of respondents: Yes – injured
  • 1% of respondents: Yes – sick and injured, at different points


Do you typically report to work in the office despite being sick?

  • 61% of respondents: Yes
  • 27% of respondents: No
  • 12% of respondents of respondents selected “Other”.  Responses are below; you’ll see a high percentage of these revolved around the degree of illness or contagion.
    • Depends on the illness
    • Depends on the level of sickness and if it is contagious
    • Sometimes; depends on how bad it is and whether I would cope with the commute
    • Depending on how I feel but definitely not when I have temperatures
    • Only if it’s not something contagious
    • Sometimes if no longer contagious
    • Depends. With a temp – no.
    • Usually – other than this time when I had a bad chest infection
    • Depends on how sick I am and what is going on in the office


Does your compensation package provide sick leave coverage?

  • 88% of respondents: Yes
  • 12% of respondents: No


Which of the following best describes the reason you go to work when sick?

  • 22% of respondents: Pride/toughness; I can manage 
  • 21% of respondents: There’s no one to cover for me 
  • 21% of respondents: Workload will suffer 
  • 20% of respondents: People count on me being there 
  • 7% of respondents: I need to attend and record meetings 
  • 4% of respondents: Financial reasons
  • 7% of respondents selected “Other”. Of these, two people said they don’t go to work ill. Others’ responses are below.
    • HR policy – Bradford scoring
    • Three sickness periods in a 12-month rolling period and you are under review
    • Pressure from line manager
    • Have never felt sick enough, always just battle through
    • Fear of job loss


How many sick days did you take off from work in 2017?

  • No sick days: 25% of respondents
  • 1 sick day: 11% of respondents
  • 2 sick days: 20% of respondents
  • 3 sick days: 13% of respondents
  • 4 sick days: 2% of respondents
  • 5 sick days: 9% of respondents
  • 6 – 10 sick days: 11% of respondents
  • 21 – 25 sick days: 1% of respondents
  • 26 – 50 sick days: 3% of respondents
  • More than 50 sick days: 2% of respondents
  • 3% of respondents selected “Other”. You’ll find these individuals’ comments below.
    • Had an operation though so this isn’t usual!
    • Cancer diagnosis
    • My unusually high level of absence was all due to me suffering a heart attack at the end of October 2016 and my recovery included reduced working hours for 4 months. I then suffered a mild angina attack in June 2017 which necessitated a few days in hospital and the short time of recovery following the procedure. I’m usually a very healthy person but as I’m getting older I now suffer more colds and throat infections – not often taking time away from the office though!!
    • Due (for) major surgery (in) 5.5 weeks, first sick leave in 23 years

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