Canadians working from home continue to stay ‘on the job’ while sick

Manitoba’s provincial government is looking for feedback from students, faculty, and other stakeholders on its post-secondary tuition policies. Getty Images

Although many Canadians have made the transition back to their normal place of work, a significant chunk of us continue to call our home “the office.”

At the same time, direction from public health officials across the nation has been the same for months — to stay home when you’re sick.

But when the home and office are paired up, that doesn’t mean Canadians are taking that time off work.

The president of Winnipeg’s Legacy Bowes group — a human resources and career coaching firm — says she’s seeing some of the lowest absence rates in the past two decades.

“When you’re working at home, I find people are more loyal to their job,” says Barbara Bowes, “Even when they’re sick, they’re still trying to work, and that’s resulted in the absenteeism rates being as low as they are.”

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It’s something Bowes saw earlier this year with a member of her own staff.

“I had a [staff member] at home for two weeks — bad allergies, stuff like that. She wasn’t feeling well,” Bowes explained. “[When she returned] I asked her ‘how much did you work’ and she said 90 per cent of the time.”

“I said ‘I thought you weren’t feeling well’ and she said she wasn’t, but she took a couple of breaks and continued to work. I think that’s the case with a lot of people.”

In what’s already a stressful time for Canadians, with health and financial concerns, that absence of time off that’s usually there is piling on to employees.

“I think there are a lot of mental health issues [right now]. People worrying about their job, worrying about their financial situation, they are putting themselves at risk by continuing to work [when sick].”
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A Royal Bank of Canada survey found that 62 per cent of those who are employed or have only recently been laid off rank their mental health as “good,” down from 66 per cent in 2019.

When it comes to financial health, that number is much lower — just 45 per cent of respondents say their finances are in “excellent” or “good” shape since the pandemic started.

The study also found employers who provide insurance or other private or group benefits usually have more employees in better spirits.

Sixty-five per cent of working Canadians with coverage rank their mental health as “excellent” or “good,” compared to 55 per cent of those without.

When it comes to finances those numbers are 48 per cent and 36 per cent, respectively.

“What can you do about it? When you’re working remotely, it’s very difficult,” Bowes says.

“How do you engage your people, who are worried about their health, worried about their finances, and still trying to work? It’s really tough.”

Bowes advises employers to organize a socially distanced gathering between workers somewhere outside of the office, when safe to do so.

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“I think this is going to continue into next year, so there’s really going to have to be an extra effort to maintain that teamwork — and maintain that mental health.”

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