Too Sick for Work?

December 19th, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

Do you take sick days, or show up regardless? And should you?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

There are many people for whom it’s a point of pride to show up to work – sick or not. It’s a sign of weakness to call in sick, the thinking goes. With plenty of employees thankful just to have a job at all, workers may think that the margin of error for not showing up to work is tighter than ever.

Some recent surveys bear out the idea that more people are showing up while sick. Office supply retailer Staples conducted its third annual Flu Season Survey, which revealed that nearly 80 percent of office workers will come to work even when they know they are sick – an increase of 20 percent over last year. For those that stay home, more than two-thirds return to work when they are still contagious. More than a quarter of those surveyed said they come to work to avoid using a sick day, even though most of them said their average productivity level while sick was only around 50 percent.

According to the Rand Corporation, the flu virus costs the U.S. economy up to $90 billion annually. The Staples survey reports that the flu virus is responsible for 70 million missed workdays and directly responsible for $10 billion in lost office productivity. In fact, so-called “presenteeism” (being at work but not productive), can actually cost employers more than not showing up at all.

The Staples survey focused on keeping surfaces contaminant-free (stocking up on hand sanitizers, giving your phone a wipe with antibacterial cleanser or alcohol, cleaning your desk) and encouraging tolerance for telecommuting so that infected employees won’t feel pressured to come to work.

But would the problem be this great if more people got flu shots, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control? According to the Rand Corporation study, less than half of the population recommended for the flu vaccine actually received it in the 2009-10 season – with a quarter of the entire population not willing to be vaccinated at all.

And what about the danger to your coworkers if you’re the one responsible for spreading something through the office? Would you feel comfortable telling your employer you need to stay home sick with the flu, or would you show up even if you suspected you were contagious? Do you feel it’s your responsibility to get a flu shot, or are you one of the quarter of the eligible population that will turn it down? Weigh in here.