More Workers Come to the Office Sick, Poll Says


You want to be sympathetic and polite about the coughing and sneezing coworker a few desks away, but honestly, you wish she'd stayed home.

Nearly 80 percent of office workers polled come to work even when they know they are sick, according to the third annual Flu Season Survey from Staples, the office supplies folks based in Framingham, Mass., who will sell you a desk, phone and a case of antiseptic wipes to keep them free of germs and dirt.

More than two-thirds of those surveyed said they return to work while they remain contagious. (You know who they are.)

Worry about completing assignments was the No. 1 reason workers came to work while ill. More than a quarter said they didn't want to use up a sick day. A majority of those conceded that they weren't working on all cylinders while not feeling well in the office.

It gets worse.

- Survey data shows only half employees clean their desks once a week or less, even though germs live for up to three days on a desk, especially the dreaded keyboard, one of the dirtiest germ catchers in the office. Cough into hands, wipe nose on wrist, pound those germs into the keyboard.

- Think door knobs are the dirtiest places in the office (like 25 percent of those surveyed)? A smart 6 percent correctly identify the break room sink as the dirtiest, followed by the office microwave, which only 8 percent selected.

- One to three days are necessary to stay home when sick with the flu, according to 65 percent. However, the flu virus may be contagious for one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick.

The flu virus is responsible for approximately 70 million missed workdays and an estimated $10 billion in lost office productivity, the survey said.

Employees could do more to keep the workplace healthy: Half of office workers don’t clean their work spaces regularly and are unaware of the dirtiest surfaces in the office. And in many places, no one knows for sure who's responsible for keeping offices clean.

The task often falls to facility managers and building service contractors. Almost 40 percent of FMs and their staff don't clean occupants’ personal work spaces because they are asked not to. More than half of respondents said they barely increase cleaning efforts during flu season.

Facility managers complained that:

- More employees work in the same or smaller space (53 percent).

- Not enough staff to adequately clean (46 percent).

- A decrease in budget for cleaning products (21 percent) with half of respondents citing that they are unable to provide hand sanitizer and 40 percent unable to provide tissues for employees.

However, survey results revealed that nearly half of all respondents believed they would need less than a 10 percent budget increase to adequately address germ control in their buildings. More than 50 percent of FM’s aren’t ordering cleaning and disinfecting chemicals.

The Staples survey suggests that employers offer and encourage telecommuting to employees who are unwell but still want to work. Products that kill germs (and all of which Staples sells) should be provided like sanitizing wipes, touch-free restroom fixtures, waterless hand sanitizers and antibacterial soap in restrooms and break rooms. Survey results show break rooms need special attention, as most workers aren’t aware of the hidden germs lurking there.

"More Workers Come to the Office Sick, Poll Says" originally appeared on Everyday Health.