You may think you are doing your boss and co-workers a favour by dragging yourself off your sick bed and going into work when you are not well; however, the reality is that you would be much better off staying at home – and your colleagues should thank you for doing so. Many of us try to fight off symptoms of colds, flu and other ailments through the use of over-the-counter remedies and treatments.
We endure the commute to the office, coughing and sneezing all the way, then spend the whole day struggling to concentrate on the task at hand. It is obvious that a sick worker is not an efficient worker; in addition, there are repercussions for your colleagues.
A recent study by the non-profit US organisation National Bureau of Economic Research looked into the issue and discovered – not surprisingly – that fewer staff get sick when employees ride their illnesses out at home rather than forcing themselves into work, where they infect their colleagues.
The study looked at the impact paid sick leave has on employee illness, comparing US cities that require employees to have paid sick leave with changes in flu rates after these laws took effect. Cities that required sick leave to be in place witnessed flu cases drop by around 5% after the laws were introduced. In a 100,000-people city, this means a not insignificant 100 fewer flu cases every week.
Assistant professor Nicolas R Ziebarth, from Cornell University, was one of the leaders of the study. He pointed out that losing money when off work is not the only reason people struggle into work when they are ill. Some worry that work will be left undone if they are not able to do it, leaving them playing catch-up when they return, while others simply dislike staying at home or want to look conscientious in front of the boss.
It is estimated that around three million people go to work sick every week in the US. This number will have a huge impact on the health of colleagues through cross-infection and is estimated to cost US companies around $150bn (£112bn) each year.
Modern, air-conditioned, open office environments do not help the situation, as they are breeding grounds for germs and enable your feeble coughs and sneezes to spread into every nook and cranny.
If you must go into work when you are sick, for whatever reason, experts advise you to keep away from colleagues as far as possible. This ‘self-quarantining’ will help a little; however, the best advice is to stay at home, where you will recover far quicker and are certain not to infect anyone else.
Employers can help by discouraging workers from coming in when sick or sending them straight home if they do turn up.
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