Working from home whilst ill is becoming contagious

By Ibrar Khan  Thursday, 24 January 2019  @Business School

Does the thought of work piling up on your desk during your sick leave fill you with dread? Are you that person in the office, who despite being ill, works from home?

UNSW Business School academic, Dr Anne Junor, says the work that mounts up after sick days means a lot of professionals are not taking official sick leave.

"Even people who have sick leave entitlements may find it very hard to take sick leave, because of work pressure. The work's going to be piling up for them when they come back," Junor says.

In a world where the office workload is getting progressively more demanding, employees are becoming more inclined to take their work home, and are likely to keep working despite being sick.

Associate Professor, Anne Junor is Deputy Director of the Industrial Relations Research Centre (IRRC), made up of group of scholars, associates and researchers.  The aim of the IRRC is to promote research on work, labour markets and industrial relations that will contribute to productive and fair work arrangements.

Dr Junor explained, "Depending on the job, you might lose contracts, sales, may seem discourteous.  It piles up.  The work demands continue.  They're constant - so it's just as easy to do work from your sick bed, really."

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman all full-time employees (except casuals) are entitled to a minimum of 10 days paid personal leave each year, which includes sick leave and carer's leave.

Data from the Australian HR Institute (AHRI) shows that people in the public sector take more than three extra days off per year (10.8 days) compared with their private sector counterparts (7.4 days).

Junor also says, the fear of needing time off (due to illness) later in the year, was another contributor as to why employees rarely used up their allocation of sick leave.

Figures from the AHRI suggest Australians still take more days of sick leave than the average nation in the western world – taking nearly nine days (on average) a year compared with just under seven days in Britain.

The change in work culture now means, where employees once would have stayed cosied up in bed or dragged themselves kicking and screaming into the office despite suffering a cough or cold, are now taking a leaf out of the digital nomad's book and choosing to work remotely.

AHRI chairman Peter Wilson says that there is no logical reason that independent work, which requires no input from others in a team or your manager – could not be done remotely.

Figures retrieved from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show more than 30 per cent of Australians now work from home in some capacity – an increase of over 10 per cent just 15 years ago.

The UNSW Business School academic says the average worker in Australia is still quite cautious, "It's a rare employee who would take their annual quota of sick leave.  It's always a worry in the back of your mind; what if you got really sick in the future and you'd used up your entitlement?" 

For now, modern technology, open attitudes and flexible working conditions seem to have recast the old notion of what sick leave might be.