We Don't Stay Home When We're Sick — and We Don't Warn Our Co-Workers

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — White-collar workers take eight sick days per year on average, and blue-collar workers take 8.8 days, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with those numbers rising the longer the employee stays on the job. After 10 years with the same company, those sick days rise to 10 per year.

What’s left unsaid by the bureau is how many staffers actually go to work when they are ill.

Fortunately, Cincinnati-based Cintas has taken a look at the issue with Harris Interactive, interviewing 2,249 U.S. adults in November. The business services firm says 84% of Americans have shown up at the office even though they were sick, and 45% say they haven’t taken any “precautions” to prevent co-workers from catching the same illness, such as not shaking hands or covering their mouths when they sneeze. Another 45% of staffers don’t bother to tell their co-workers they are ill.

All this in a country where the U.S. public catches 1 billion colds per year, Cintas says.

“Workplaces can quickly become breeding grounds for bacteria when workers engage in presenteeism, or attending work while sick,” explains John Amann, a vice president for first aid and safety at the company. “Since presenteeism reduces business productivity, it’s important for people to take the proper steps to protect themselves and others, like avoiding contact and warning co-workers of their illness.”

The good news is that most U.S. workers are already doing some things to keep their illness from filtering through the office.

According to the study:

  • 77% say they “regularly use hand sanitizer, and wash their hands.
  • 67% say they “sneeze or cough into their sleeve.”
  • 54% say they carry their own medicine to work.
  • 34% say they wipe down their desks “regularly” at work.

Cintas advises companies to have a “well-stocked” first aid cabinet on hand, with plenty of decongestants, cold medicine and sore throat medications. Cough drops and nondrowsy products such as Dayquil should be offered as well, in tamper-proof sealed packets.

Making a small investment in such supplies could pay off with healthier and more productive workers, Amann says.

“Employers that are proactive about properly maintaining first-aid cabinets demonstrate that they care about workers’ health and wellness,” he says. “By stocking cabinets for cold-weather months, employers can keep productivity on track, prevent the escalation of sickness and reduce OSHA recordable cases.”

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