Has Covid Changed Our Attitudes Towards Sick Leave?

Has Covid changed our attitudes towards sick leave? We’ve all been there – you wake up feeling dreadful so reluctantly decide to call in sick.  And despite being genuinely ill and a conscientious worker who hasn’t taken off any sick leave for months, you can hear the tone of annoyance and lack of sympathy in your boss’s voice. Or maybe you’re reading this and know that, at some point, you’ve been that unsympathetic boss.

In this country, we seem to have  very unhealthy attitudes towards sick leave.  British stoicism means that you put on a stiff upper lip and “keep calm and carry on”. We seem to be expected to drag ourselves into the office even when we feel we are at death’s door. From speaking to those working in Continental Europe or in Asia, the exact opposite seems to be true.  It is really frowned upon to come into the office and spread your germs to others.  In the UK however, the old-fashioned view that people who are working from home are skiving has persisted. But has Covid changed all of this?

We spoke to a number of different marketing leaders as well as HR professionals in the legal sector to gauge their views.

Even prior to Covid, many law firms had implemented policies to enable people to work from home at least one day a week. This led to a shift in attitude towards working from home and sick leave by team leaders. Although there was still a minority that felt that working from home was an opportunity to do less work. Many take the view that there is a difference between being so ill that you’re bed bound, and feeling well enough to probably get some work done, but knowing that if you go out into the freezing cold and get on the tube, you’ll feel way worse by the time you arrive at work.

If you’re feeling under the weather, many bosses are happy for their staff to work from home to meet a deadline or to clear the inbox and then rest up if they need to. Some also feel that presenteeism really isn’t good for productivity and creativity and that you get more out of your employees if they are working at home albeit not at full capacity.  They are less likely to feel stressed and recover more quickly as a result. However, the flip side is the worry that people will force themselves to work when they should be resting. Although with self-certification for the first seven sick days, there are no insurance risks. Employees can therefore decide for themselves whether they are well enough to work.

Since the Coronavirus epidemic hit the UK, lockdown has shown that people are actually very productive when working from home, with many team leaders feeling that some are even more productive as they are better rested and less distracted.  Of course, this may not be the case for those who have had to deal with home schooling on top of working.  This has been extremely stressful for many families. But hopefully now that this challenge has been removed, parents will also feel some of those benefits.  And the upside is that Covid has led to an acceptance of allowing people to manage their day and time how best suits them.

Although we’ve been focusing on physical illness, it would be wrong not to mention mental illness in this context.  Despite the legal sector doing a great deal to promote awareness around mental illness, some managers by their own admission struggle to get their head around the depression and anxiety that so many people, particularly those of a younger generation, suffer from.  For many, understanding an illness that can’t physically be seen is difficult.

Although one could easily argue that it’s very evident when someone is suffering with their mental health. During Covid, this may be more difficult when people have less interaction with others.  Covid has led to an increase in depression and of course, Covid itself may be the cause of anxiety for some returning to work.  Firms may see an increase in sickness related to people’s concerns around travelling and falling ill once people start the daily commute again.  It’s important at this time, therefore, for managers to continuously check in with their teams. To make sure that people aren’t suffering in silence.

And interestingly, it also appears that requests for sick leave have plummeted. Presumably because lockdown has meant that people aren’t catching bugs or attending as many doctor or hospital appointments.  It is also possible that employees are dealing with sick leave off-record with their immediate managers, as discussed above.

It seems possible therefore, that with a greater understanding of how germs are spread and changing attitudes towards mask wearing, employers won’t want people coming into the office and spreading their germs, particularly if it’s a new and dangerous virus.  Hopefully therefore, the culture of presenteeism will shift. We won’t need to feel guilty for calling in sick in the future!

What do you think? We’d love to hear from you…


To discuss this or your career in general you can contact us at:

Frosso Miltiadou

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Simone Sullivan

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Amanda Pearson

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