9 in 10 employees come to work sick, survey shows

Health. More employees ages 25 to 40 reported always coming to work unwell than respondents in other age groups. More than half of those who report to the office with a cold or the flu said they do so because they have too much work on their plate.

02 Dec 2019 | 10:33

Are coworkers literally making each other sick?

In new research from global staffing firm Accountemps, 90 percent of professionals admitted they've at least sometimes come to the office with cold or flu symptoms. Of those respondents, 33 percent always go to work even when they're under the weather.

More employees ages 25 to 40 (39 percent) reported always coming to work unwell than respondents ages 18 to 24, 55 and older (27 percent each), and ages 41 to 54 (26 percent).

More than half of those who report to the office with a cold or the flu (54 percent) said they do so because they have too much work on their plate. Another 40 percent don't want to use sick time.

Among the 28 U.S. cities in the study, Charlotte, Miami (96 percent each), Austin, Chicago, and Cincinnati (93 percent each) had the most employees who show up while feeling ill.

New York (67 percent), Minneapolis (66 percent), and Miami (64 percent) had the most respondents who report to the office while ill because of an overwhelming workload.

"Whether it's due to large workloads, pressure from the boss or because they can't afford to take time off, it's all too common for employees to come to the office feeling sick when they really should be resting," said Michael Steinitz, senior executive director of Accountemps, a division of Robert Half. "Staying home when you've got a cold or the flu is the best way to avoid spreading germs to others and fight the illness faster."

Steinitz added, "Bosses should set an example by taking time off when they're under the weather, encouraging employees to do the same and offering those with minor ailments the ability to work from home. Bringing in temporary professionals can keep assignments on track during staff absences."

The online survey was developed by Accountemps and conducted by an independent research firm. It includes responses from 2,800 workers 18 years of age or older and employed in office environments in 28 U.S. cities.

When to stay home:
If you’re seriously sneezing and coughing. This is how a cold spreads, and if you don’t have your own office, frequent coughing is likely to disturb your coworkers.
If you have active symptoms, such as chills, fatigue and body aches. These are early signs of the flu, and you are often contagious a day before you have symptoms.
If you have a fever. A high temperature signals that your body is fighting something off and that you need to rest. Staying home to rest will help you recover more quickly.
If you are vomiting or have diarrhea. Things like food poisoning and 24-hour bugs need bed rest and lots of fluids more than anything.
If you’re otherwise contagious. Anyone with a condition such as pink eye should definitely stay home to avoid passing on the illness to others.
If the medication you’re on affects your alertness. You won’t be at 100 percent while trying to do your job, and driving could be dangerous. Don’t risk it.
When it makes sense to go back or keep working:
If you’re no longer contagious. You are capable of transmitting the cold or flu virus to others for about a week after you initially get sick.
If you’re feeling a lot better. Once you’re out of the danger zone, or your doctor has given you the thumbs up, going to work can be a relief from the monotony of staying home sick.
If it’s just allergies. They’re annoying, not contagious, so there is no need to worry about getting your coworkers sick. Do consider taking a decongestant or antihistamine to minimize your coughing and sneezing, though.
How to avoid getting sick at work:
Wash your hands frequently. Washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is the best way to ensure you don’t spread germs or catch them.
Try not to share too much. If you can help it, don’t share food, phones, keyboards or a computer mouse with coworkers.
Keep your workspace clean. Wipe down surfaces at your desk with an alcohol-based solution.
Consider getting a flu shot. Ben Franklin was right: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The Centers for Disease Control recommends annual flu vaccines to help you build antibodies that can protect you from infection.