Employees Feel Pressed to Work When Sick

February 4, 2014 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Nearly 90% of office workers come to work even when they know they are sick, according to the fourth annual Flu Season Survey from Staples.

This is up from 80% in last year’s survey and 60% in the 2011 survey.

According to the survey, workers acknowledged that staying out three days when sick with the flu was appropriate. The majority of workers, however, stay out of the office for less than two days when sick, putting coworkers’ health and business productivity at risk, Staples says. The primary reason most respondents cited for returning to work early is not wanting to fall behind on their workload (45%).

Twenty-one percent of respondents said they come into work sick because they don’t think they could do their work from home. Of the respondents whose company offers a telecommuting option, more than 50% felt inclined to telecommute to avoid sickness during flu season.

The survey indicates workers have a better understanding of flu contagion, even though more are showing up sick. Nearly half (49%) of respondents understand they are contagious with the flu virus for one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick—an improvement from 38% last year. Three-quarters (76%) of workers correctly identified the break room as the least clean spot in the office—a sharp increase from 26% last year. Fifty-seven percent know flu viruses can live on a hard surface up to three days, a slight increase from last year. However, 66% of employees only clean their desks once a week or less—up from 51% last year.

“Flu season poses a big problem for businesses– each year it causes an estimated 70 million missed workdays and billions in lost office productivity. It’s critical that both employees and employers take notice and promote healthier habits,” says Lisa Hamblet, vice president for facility solutions at Staples Advantage, the business-to-business division of Staples. “That can mean arming a workforce with simple products like hand sanitizer to large-scale industrial cleaning products and techniques. Diligence early in the flu season ensures health and productivity throughout the season.”

The top three products respondents indicated they would like their employers to provide to help maintain a healthy office are hand sanitizer in common areas (47%), hand sanitizing wipes on every desk (42%) and touch-free restroom features (39%).

Staples separately surveyed facility managers (FMs) and found only 7% identified the break room as the germiest place in the office. Forty-three percent of FMs said they believe they’re responsible for the health of building occupants during flu season, while 40% said it is up to the workers themselves. Less than half of FMs indicated that they ordered supplies to help prevent the spread of germs in the office, such as cleaning and disinfecting chemicals.

When asked what would be most helpful for employees to keep in mind to help prevent germs, FMs identified a wide range of preventative measures, from washing hands and not eating at desks, to covering noses/mouths when sneezing and cleaning desks using sanitizing products.