Texas State study: More pressure to work sick amid omicron variant surge

Education

SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — A professor at Texas State University is researching the impact of people showing up to work when they’re sick.

As the omicron variant surges, and after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced guidelines on how long someone should quarantine, she said there’s growing pressure to work sick. It’s called presenteeism.

“Presenteeism is working while sick or with a health condition, and what my research is looking at, is both before the pandemic and during the pandemic, and how workers are making choices that are constrained by policies and organizational practices about whether or not they can stay home if they’re sick or if they feel forced to go to work while sick.”

Dr. Elizabeth K. Eger, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies, said the term is important to say and make more widely known.

“Having language for something helps us to be able to talk about it,” she explained.

Eger and her team are comparing data collected from 129 people before the pandemic and 100 during the pandemic last spring.

“Before the pandemic, many people would go to work while sick — even sometimes use it as kind of a badge of honor. During the pandemic, we saw some shifts where there were new policies that people were able to have paid time, and there was some federal funding available for companies. More people were feeling encouraged to take sick leave,” Eger said.

But now that many federal COVID-19 relief programs have ended, some don’t have access to paid sick time and can’t afford to miss work. Eger said people are once again feeling pressure to show up to work even when they’re sick.

“I think right now what we’re seeing is a huge surge, not only of the virus but also structural problems connected to the virus. We have a shortage of tests,” she said. “They’re having to go to work while sick. We can start to have conversations in our organizations that this is an unhealthy practice. It’s something that can put our employees at risk; it can put our customers at risk.”

The study is in its analysis phase. Eger said they’re working on getting their study published, with all of its findings organized. Read more about the study online here.

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