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Americans want their workplaces to pay them to never call in sick

Almost two-thirds think cash gifts for employees with perfect work attendance is a good idea.

What it means: Companies wondering how to get their employees to show up every day could always take a leaf out of Continental Airlines playbook and offer everyone with a year’s perfect attendance the chance to win a free car.

The airline says that before the scheme was put in place, staff were always calling in sick or coming in late, which meant lots of flights wound up being delayed. Now, 32 percent of their workers (or 28,000 employees) have perfect attendance throughout the year and the vast majority of the company's flights leave on time. That leads to happy customers and repeat bookings.

Other firms have similar problems with sick leave. When staff aren’t there, businesses can’t make or sell as much stuff. That has a financial cost: the US economy is supposed to lose $576 billion every year from employee sickness (that’s roughly the equivalent of Sweden’s entire Gross Domestic Product, aka GPD, which is the total value of all the stuff it makes in a year).

Bribing employees to get out of bed might therefore make financial sense, especially as 40 percent of workers admit to shamming ill at least once a year. And American employees, at least, would totally be on board with being paid extra to go to work: 37 percent “love the idea” and barely one in ten would be “not comfortable” with it.

But there might be big downsides to the policy too. It could be seen as discriminatory. Some social groups are much more likely than others to need sick leave, like parents, people with disabilities or chronic illnesses, older people. And encouraging people to work when they’re sick isn’t always going to pay off - because people aren’t usually top-notch workers when they’re feeling rough.

Add in the fact that sick people are often contagious and pushing staff to come in when ill means companies risk ending up with loads of staff feeling dreadful, working more slowly and making more mistakes. And while customers might get annoyed if employee absences mean they get worse service or products, they’re probably not going to be buzzing about having germs breathed on them either.

Read our explainer on work.

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