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Shutting Down the Stigma of Sick Days


In October last year, GSK Consumer Healthcare’s Theraflu brand announced the launch of the Rest & Recover Fund to provide relief for those facing access barriers to sick time and raise awareness of the cultural stigma associated with taking a sick day. Theraflu has teamed with Good+Foundation to distribute one thousand $150 grants (the average income lost to a sick day) to support parents, particularly Black and Latina moms, facing the financial and logistical challenges of taking a sick day.

Theraflu also issued the 2021 Temperature Check Report through OnePoll, a survey of 2,000 working Americans, which revealed attitudes, perceptions and racial disparities surrounding sick time. The findings revealed that nearly 70% of Americans continue to show up to work sick because they can’t afford a sick day; Black and Latina women are 10% more likely than white women to avoid calling out sick for fear of being reprimanded by their employer; and 58% of employed Americans avoid calling out sick for fear of being reprimanded by their employer — and when they do call out, two in three feel their boss doesn‘t believe their reasoning.

Recently, Pharm Exec sat down with Sameer Rabbani, GSK Consumer Healthcare‘s marketing lead for respiratory health to shed further light on the Theraflu fund and the survey results.

PharmExec: What is behind your attempts to destigmatize sick days?

Sameer Rabbani : Our aspiration at Theraflu is to create a flu-safe world — and to do that, people need to be able to take time to rest and recover when they need to. Through Theraflu’s Temperature Check, a survey of 2,000 working Americans, we discovered staggering data regarding financial barriers and racial stigmas surrounding sick leave. In fact, 64% of polled employees said taking time off is too much of a financial burden. Data proved that often the primary caregivers in their family, Black and Latina women showed an inequity when it came to accessing sick time.

We quickly learned that our commitment to Diversity and Inclusion (and a flu-safe world) extends into our work with destigmatizing sick days so people can feel comfortable taking the time needed to recuperate from even minor illnesses.

How do you ensure that the program reaches people most in need?

Through close collaboration with Good+Foundation — a non-profit that provides support to under-resourced parents — we established the Rest & Recover Fund. Fueled by the Temperature Check’s findings, we designed this microgrant program to support those who need it most — primarily parents, particularly Black and Latina moms that are facing the financial and logistical challenges of taking a sick day.

The Rest & Recover Fund, via a network of localized grantee partners, will distribute one thousand $150 grants, the average income lost to a sick day, which for some families, might equate to a week’s worth of groceries, childcare, or a significant portion of their rent.

How has the global pandemic impacted GSK’s (and more specifically Theraflu’s) purpose-driven work?

Living through the pandemic has proven that it’s essential for people to take care of their own health, to protect themselves and others. Though there has always been an inherent pressure to push through while sick, the Temperature Check shows the pandemic has intensified this demand. Nearly 70% of remote-working Americans feel obligated to clock in while ill due to feeling the new expectation that taking a sick day is only warranted if you have COVID-19. As we at Theraflu continue to urge people to prioritize their health, we recognize that it isn’t always possible in the same way for everyone, and feel it is our responsibility to promote rest and recovery as a right, not a privilege, so that people can more easily access the time off they need.

What is distinctive about Theraflu’s purpose-driven work, like the Rest and Recover Fund?

What makes the Rest & Recover campaign unique is the data driven approach we took toward identifying the barriers and stigmas surrounding sick leave and who is most affected through our Temperature Check Report. Polling employed Americans on the pain points of taking sick leave backed our decision to help support those most affected and in need of our microgrants — families, particularly Black and Latina mothers. Our partnership with Good+Foundation provided the right infrastructure to create the Rest & Recover Fund, which is intentional in design to reach recipients who are feeling the pressure to push through most acutely. Through this campaign and other initiatives to come, we aim to help change lives across communities by helping provide people with access to time off when sick.

Health equity and access is something that does not happen overnight. How do you remain motivated as a leader in this industry who pursues purpose-driven work?

In Theraflu’s fight for a flu-safe world, we must acknowledge all barriers that prevent consumers from getting back to feeling 100%. Theraflu’s goal has always been to help people recover from a cold or flu with our relief products. Our purpose also includes providing relief in new ways — most recently, through our Rest & Recover Fund to provide direct assistance to families in need and raise awareness for this issue. Though the change won’t happen overnight, here at Theraflu, we will continue to fight for people’s ability to take time to rest and recover when they need to.

What is Theraflu and GSK Consumers Health’s vision for 2022, as you and your team continue to pursue purpose-driven work?

We are excited to continue with our purpose-driven and cause programs in the new year. Across GSK Consumer Health portfolio of brands, we are exploring new opportunities and ways to continue delivering better everyday health with humanity. On Theraflu, we aim to continue doing our part to spread awareness, reduce stigma around sick days and fight for easier access to paid sick leave.

To learn more about this initiative, visit Theraflu.com/RightToRecover.

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