Stress over work, plus the fear of contracting an infectious disease in the office, may be shaping the way you view your colleagues these days.
In fact, as one study points out, these feelings of stress and anxiety can result in a person's hostile treatment of co-workers who may be feeling under the weather.
At a time when workplaces are starting to re-open, employees are easing back into the office and braving health risks of their own.
Yet those who show up to work while they are feeling unwell won't likely be commended for their efforts. Chances are, they could even suffer harsh treatment from colleagues because of their 'presenteeism' – the practice of coming to work when one is not at their best, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
The phenomenon isn't specific to COVID-19, said Shannon Taylor, management professor at the University of Central Florida, where the research originated.
However, in offices that have had to continue face-to-face operations during the pandemic, stressed out and burnt out workers were more likely to put their own welfare first whenever they encountered a sick colleague. These stressed out workers would either avoid their sick colleague or demonstrate outright rudeness, based on the observations of Taylor and research partner Troy Pounds, who specialises in integrated business.
"If you have a pile of work to get done when a co-worker shows up in the office and appears to be ill, your reaction might be to worry about how it will impact you," Taylor said. "For example, you might worry about your own health or taking on their work instead of showing concern for your colleague."
Indeed, the pandemic has brought out the best and worst in people, the professor noted.
"Understanding how employees respond to a sick co-worker at work can have a significant impact on a company's culture and its bottom line."
Presenteeism may be a difficult habit to break in cultures that praise overwork – when an employee is being driven to breaking point. This trend cuts across different segments of the workforce, from teachers and nurses, to cashiers and customer service representatives.
The key is to change perceptions of overwork and presenteeism from the top down.
"Managers should encourage sick employees to stay home to help them recover more quickly, protect the health of their colleagues and avoid the risk of abuse at work," Taylor said.