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Krannert Professor Discusses Illness in the Workplace

Monday, January 26, 2015


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — With an especially harsh flu season underway, Purdue University Professor Ellen Kossek says employers need to be proactive in dealing with ill workers.

  Kossek, a specialist in work-life issues, says the United States has a large number of workers who aren't paid if they stay home because of illness.

"This can lead to something called presenteeism," Kossek says. "That means an ill worker shows up on the job but isn't really working. And that person can easily be spreading the illness."

Kossek says that in addition to providing sick time, employers also can help avoid having sick workers on the job and spreading illness by developing some useful policies. Among them:

* Provide cross-training so you don't have a case where only one worker knows how to do a certain job. "Make sure each employee has a backup who knows how to do the same job," Kossek says.

* If it's technologically possible, let an employee who is not feeling well but not stay-in-bed sick work from home. "Perhaps the employee works a lighter load that day and catches up later in the week," Kossek said. "The employer gets some work done, and the employee doesn't infect other workers. The worker doesn't get behind and has time to sleep and recuperate.

"We need to rethink work to have weekly or monthly hours and include some paid sick time for workers."

A video of Kossek talking about work and illness is available at

Kossek is the Basil S. Turner Professor of Management and Research and director of the Susan Bulkeley Butler Center for Leadership in the Krannert School of Management. 

Writer: Judith Barra Austin, 765-494-2432,

Source: Ellen Kossek, 765-494-6852,