Keep Your Illness to Yourself

17 02 2011

It starts with a sneeze and a sniff over the cubicle wall. “Ugh!” you think as you slather yourself in hand sanitizer, “Why is that person at work while they’re sick? I have a vacation next week, I cannot get sick!”

According to a recent study, nearly three out of four people go to work when they’re sick and about one in three Americans said they would show up to work no matter how sick they feel.

Image by Leonid Mamchenkov

Why do we do it?  Why do we insist on going to work sick and making ourselves and everyone else miserable?

Turns out there are reasons. We often have a lot of anxiety about taking a sick day. A study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 19% of Americans feel pressure by their boss or supervisor to go to work when they are feeling sick. Some of us don’t have the luxury of sick days and taking a day off means less pay. While this might seem unfair, it’s a reality for many.

The truth is — everyone loses when we go to work sick.

We can prolong our illness or exacerbate it by not getting the rest our body needs to fight the infection.

Our coworkers lose by being exposed to a microbe that can sicken them and that they in turn will share with their family and friends. More than half of workers have pointed a finger at a coworker as the source of their illness.

There’s also a cost associated with coming to work sick. Presenteeism, when an employee shows up sick and isn’t productive, costs the U.S. economy $180 billion annually in lost productivity.

OK, maybe that’s not the best motivation for staying home when sick, but we need to give our coworkers a break.  Don’t be the coughing, hacking, germ-spreading guy who ruins everyone’s weekend or worse, vacation, by making them sick.  Stay home, watch TV, eat ice cream, sleep.  Your body deserves it.


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