Saturday, May 2, 2009

Stay Home if Swine Flu is a Possibility ... but How?

The Swine Flu has arrived, and people are frightened. It's no surprise to me, for one, that "pandemic" and "panic" start with the same three letters. Pandemonium. Mary just sent me an article link exploring the somewhat contradictory directions we are being given. And I don't mean in terms of getting sick.

Recent statistics claim that 57 million Americans have no paid sick time. If they (or their family members) are sick, they must make that agonizing choice to either go to work sick or stay home then suck it up on payday. Not a good option either way.

With the economy being what it is, a reduction in work force because employees are told to stay home if suffering from certain symptoms could be disastrous, to both workplace production and employee job security. However, at the same time, nobody wants the first three letters in pandemic to turn to "epi".

The article talks about something called "presenteeism", which is basically when someone who should be absent from work instead goes in sick. A 2004 study by Cornell, in fact, found that $180 billion each year is lost to "presenteeism" due to lack of productivity brought about by sick employees that go to work anyway.

As someone who has been guilty of presenteeism (I go to work unless one of my kids is home sick ... or I'm in the hospital with pancreatitis), I think this is very accurate. If you ask my students, for example, when we watch movies or do busywork worksheets or something less exciting than my class usually is, they can tell you, "Oh, Mrs. L had a cold that day" or "Mrs. L lost her voice and couldn't talk" or something like that. The irony is, it's fairly easy for me to take time off from work--I just don't like to.

Companies and schools and public places and airplanes and so on are saying, "If you're exhibiting symptoms of Swine Flu, just stay home." However, is it really that simple? And is this indicative of a bigger problem?

Despite my aversion to missing work, if I suddenly came down with flu-like symptoms and was running a high fever, I'd call in. I wouldn't want to expose my students and colleagues to anything potentially dangerous. However, I have that luxury.

What about the 57 million people out there that don't?