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The end of the sick day?

Remote working has made is easier to power through illness rather than rest, but this could be at a cost to health, wellbeing and productivity  

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THE DAYS OF downing a bunch of cough syrup and trudging into the office while hacking up a lung (or working beside someone doing so) are, thankfully, well behind us. Whether it’s Covid or the common cold, expectations have shifted and sick workers are now more conscious of the health benefits of simply staying home when sick.

But what about remote workers? If you’re already working from the comfort of your own home, are you still expected to call out when you’re sick?

A 2021 survey of 1,000 work-from-home employees offered some insight: 62 per cent of them admitted to clocking in while they were sick, and anecdotally Covid has raised the bar of what’s considered a sick day.

“If I’ve got a bad cough and I clearly have a bad cold, I don’t want to be with my colleagues,” Ivey Business School professor Ann Frost told the BBC. “But can I stay in and still get the project done I’m supposed to do? You bet I can.”

Right now, there’s no standard way for employers or employees to broach this subject, but we’re likely to see changes in policy and tact in the coming months and years. For one thing, there is more pressure on governments to mandate paid sick leave (Canada recently passed legislation guaranteeing 10 sick days annually), which would protect remote workers who feel unduly pressured to work from home while sick. Others suggest the problem is best dealt with at a company culture level.

“Much depends on the culture of the workplace: the examples set by senior executives, the jibes made about slacking off or bingeing on streaming services,” writes Emma Jacobs. “Ultimately it comes down to trusting employees to take time off when they need it and not abuse the flexibility.”


A day without email is like...

Email-free Fridays. No-meeting Wednesdays. More and more companies are carving out time for unreachability

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WHILE FLEX-WORK HAS had many benefits in the realm of flexibility and comfort, it has also led to burnout for workers who have found that one unintended byproduct has been the blurring of home and work, and the expectation that you are now always reachable by email, Teams or Slack.

All of this has led to some companies to experiment with modifications to flex-work policies, allowing their employees to essentially become unreachable for a period of time. Front, an American customer communication software firm, recently started allowing their employees to ignore emails and calls, and banned the holding of meetings, on Fridays (with some emergency exceptions).

The idea, said their founder, was to give their employees a day where they could focus on nothing but their own work ― and 89 per cent of their employees said it has had a positive impact on their well-being and productivity.

The notion has some evidence behind it, too. “When one no-meeting day per week was introduced, autonomy, communication, engagement and satisfaction all improved, resulting in decreased micromanagement and stress, which caused productivity to rise,” found one MIT study.

Others have responded to the burnout problem differently. Media company Daily Hive mandated that their employees take two paid half days off each month, and declared all Wednesdays to be meeting-free. (In London Inc.’s Spring 2021 issue, we interviewed an employee of, where a similar practice was being introduced.)

“Don’t get me wrong, we’re not saying meetings are bad, but when you’re caught up in meetings all day, it’s often hard to get your tasks done and be very productive with your work,” sums up Daily Hive’s head of people and culture. “So, we want to experiment and provide everyone with blocked off deep work time; time to concentrate, put your head down and start to check things off of your to-do list.”


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Did you hear?

Pssst... according to science, office gossip is actually good for the workplace


YOU’VE PROBABLY MET the office gossip ― the one who knows exactly what the drama is, who’s mad at who, what’s happening behind closed doors, and so on.

And though gossip has often been seen as a negative activity, it turns out that its absence, amid the pandemic, has been sorely missed.

Gossip, says one behavioural scientist, is an essential part of office culture, and the lack of it in a virtual office environment has its own negative impacts. Gossip “can lead to a culture of self-improvement,” they write; it can also help employees feel like they are fitting in, and they stress less about the social hierarchies at work.

“When we gossip, this stress dissolves,” writes Nick Hobson. “This ‘water-cooler talk’ has no Zoom equivalent.”

Experts from many fields suggest that office gossip has benefits. "You really want employees connected and feeling some sense of loyalty to the organization, says Stanford economics professor Nicholas Bloom.

“This shouldn’t be underestimated by employers,” said one recruiter. “It might not appear to directly impact a firm’s bottom line, but it will do indirectly. It is also a way to include new starters who have been working from home since they were hired and do not yet have a relationship with their colleagues.”

Of course, moderation is key ― when gossip turns into toxicity or bullying, the benefits evaporate. But keep it casual and nice, and it could help revive the office culture that’s been lacking during the pandemic.

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The power of pets 

Pets have proven to be one of the pandemics cute, furry growth area


THE PANDEMIC HAS obviously been hard for humans, but you know who has thrived all this time? Pets, who have grown in numbers and have been lavished with record spending from their owners ― and it’s even proving to be good for the economy.

Demand for pets has been up throughout the pandemic in Canada, with more first-time pet owners and more spending from existing pet owners. In the U.S., nine million dogs and five million cats were reportedly acquired in the first two years. It’s a good time to be four-legged, apparently.

And spending on services for those pets has gone up, too, which has benefitted the pet economy and created pleasant pet-related jobs. South of the border, pet care is now a $99 billion industry ― a record ― and premium pet product companies say they have experienced “unprecedented growth.”

Not all sectors of the pet economy fared as well, though. Dog walking, a preferred gig for bohemian layabouts, cratered as people moved to working from home, as did pet sitting. But with pandemic restrictions easing and offices reopening, these areas are starting to see slow rebounds, as new pet owners adjust to the lifestyle.

“We see customers looking for more convenient ways to walk their dogs or maximize the utility of their space,” said one pet brand owner. “People are looking for products that will keep their pets occupied while working from home.”


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