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In bed, the laptop is always at hand: You can quickly check emails instead of recovering. © Christin Klose/dpa-tmn

In the home office, the barriers for employees to sit down at the laptop even though they are sick are particularly low. How do you draw a line?

Constance – Since the beginning of the corona pandemic, it has become a no-go in many places to come to work with cold symptoms. But that didn’t really put an end to presenteeism. This is what the phenomenon is called when employees also come to work sick.

On the contrary: In many cases he has shifted to the home office. A recently published study shows the first tendencies that in many cases employees work from home despite illness. Feelings of guilt are particularly decisive, according to the study authors from the Kühne Logistics University in Hamburg and the WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management in Düsseldorf.

You can still join the meeting with a bit of a headache and a stuffy nose, right?

Utz Niklas Walter, Head of the Institute for Occupational Health Advice (IFBG), reveals in an interview how employees make the right “bedside decision” and what role managers play in this.

Question: Why is it difficult for many in the home office not to work even though they are ill?

Utz Niklas Walter: In general you can say: In the home office it is of course easy to pick up the notebook. You don’t feel so fit, you sit in bed and often have your laptop or smartphone at hand anyway. It quickly happens that you also check the e-mails. The barriers are low.

There are hardly any research findings on the specific reasons for presenteeism in the home office. However, these are probably similar to classic presenteeism.

And our evaluations of 16,000 data records show that employees work despite illness, mainly because of urgent tasks and appointments. The second most common reason is accumulated work. And in third place is the desire not to be a burden to colleagues. Younger employees also often say that there is no representative for them.

Question: How do employees set meaningful limits themselves?

Walter: First of all, each of us makes a bedside decision every morning – I wake up and feel how good I am and what I can do today. This decision should be made consciously.

Ultimately, it is the symptoms that matter. How am I? How am I feeling right now? For example, if I only have a slight headache or a slight scratchy throat, that does not mean that I have to spend the whole day in bed. One should also think of the employer here.

But if I notice that I have stronger symptoms and there is a risk of spreading the disease, then it is better to take a day off, drink a lot, lock the laptop away and rest. The decisive factor should therefore be the severity of the symptoms and the question of whether propagation is possible.

Question: How do teams find a good agreement here so that no false expectations arise?

Walter: Ultimately, you can develop a kind of self-commitment in the team. It is best to write down how you want to deal with these things and then have everyone sign it. According to the motto: “This is our presenteeism code.”

It is important to find a good compromise between the wishes of the employer and the employee. In addition, managers should try to develop a culture of mindfulness for the topic in their teams.

This includes, on the one hand, that they fulfill their role model function and do not show up sick at the meeting themselves. Second, they should not praise anyone for working sick. For example: “Wow, great, you’re here anyway!” or “It’s great that you’re working again today.” This signal effect is fatal, especially in meetings in front of other people.

Another point: Managers should protect particularly competitive employees – by clearly saying: “Now you rest and take it easy.”

This is appreciated because in the end the decision is made for the employees. The person does not have to worry about the light in which they are now presented to the manager. dpa

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