It's time you had an "unsick day," say some companies

It’s easy to put health appointments on the back burner when work pressures loom, but some companies are trying to make it simpler for employees to take better care of their health by offering “unsick days.” They say it’ll make for more productive, happier, healthier workers and businesses.

The new initiative, by health app company Zocdoc, aims to encourage companies to give workers a dedicated paid day off every year so they can get to their preventive health appointments – annual check-ups, eye exams, skin screenings, dental appointments and the like.

They launched their campaign this week along with recent findings from a survey they collaborated on with Kelton Global that shows 3 out of 5 (60 percent) of American workers feel uncomfortable leaving work for preventive care appointments. The survey was conducted in August 2016, and included 2,009 employed Americans ages 18 and up. It used an e-mail invitation and an online survey.

Zocdoc vice president of communications Jessica Aptman told CBS News that one of the most striking findings revealed that nearly 9 in 10 (86 percent) workers admitted that they would cancel or reschedule a preventive care appointment due to workplace pressures. 

“The study really was a look at the cultural conflicts between work and health,” said Aptman.

“There’s this psychological cultural barrier of people feeling like they can’t get away and leave their desk,” she added.

The findings also showed that half of American workers think missing work for preventive care appointments may hurt their chances of getting promoted

Dr. Oliver Kharraz, Zocdoc’s founder and CEO, said in a press statement, “Most of us know that going to the doctor for a check-up is important, but all too often, the pressures and expectations of work take precedence.”

He added, “Even at the most progressive companies, many employees worry that they will be judged or penalized if they take time off for a routine check-up. As business leaders, it’s not enough to simply offer health care benefits. We have to be more proactive in empowering employees to take care of themselves.”

Benjamin Miller, associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the director of the Eugene S. Farley, Jr., Health Policy Center there, told CBS News, the idea of an “unsick day” is “fascinating.”

He said the top five conditions that drive employer costs are depression, anxiety, obesity, back and neck pain, and arthritis. People call in sick because of them, or they come to work and aren’t functioning well and productivity goes down.

“So literally this is what employers spend the vast majority of their money on,” Miller said, explaining that to take a proactive approach by encouraging preventive health care makes sense.

“Any time we as people have the opportunity to step away from our job and focus on our health, that’s going to benefit everybody. We have to get away from the notion that health care is just about being sick,” Miller said.

Zocdoc’s “unsick day” founding partners include Buffer, Capsule, Everyday Health Inc., Foursquare, Greatist, Greenhouse, Handy, Oscar, Sailthru, Virgin Hotels and ZOLA, whose employees – collectively – will have thousands of “unsick days” in 2017. Plus, the CEOs and executives of the companies plan to lead by example by taking an “unsick day” themselves, Zocdoc executives said.

  • Mary Brophy Marcus On Twitter»

    Mary Brophy Marcus covers health and wellness for CBSNews.com