BETHESDA, Md. -- A new national survey indicates that 35 percent of U.S. workers feel pressured to go to work when they are sick with the flu, even though this causes 47 percent to feel annoyed or angry when a co-worker does so. When asked why they feel pressured to go to work, respondents cited the following reasons most often:
* 60 percent are concerned about their work not getting done
* 48 percent feel guilty for missing work (56 percent of women, 42 percent of men)
* 25 percent said they do not get paid for sick days
* 24 percent said they get minimal or no sick time off
Other reasons for feeling pressured include fear their boss will be angry (20 percent) and concern about job loss (18 percent).
Employees who go to work sick not only risk infecting their co-workers, but also may be less productive.(1) In addition, the Harvard Business Review cites evidence that "presenteeism" -- the problem of workers' being on the job, but, because of illness or other medical conditions, not fully functioning -- can have a serious impact in the workplace.(2) In a typical year, it is estimated that influenza in the workplace may result in as much as $10 billion in lost productivity.(3)
"Controlling flu spread in the workplace is important from both a public health and business perspective," said Susan J. Rehm, MD, medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), and a clinician in the Department of Infectious Disease at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. "Whether real or perceived, there are obviously a number of factors driving people to go to work when they are sick with the flu."
"America's public health leaders and corporations need to work together to provide guidance to our workforce, so they can better understand the public health and economic implications of being sick at work. The ability to recognize symptoms is critical to help employees determine whether to stay home if sick," she added. "NFID's newest educational materials, designed specifically for the workplace, help address these challenges."
To help employers and employees understand how they can control flu spread in the workplace, NFID developed an educational bulletin offering tips on minimizing the spread of flu, which can be posted in the workplace or distributed to employees. The bulletin can be downloaded by employers at http://www.nfid.org and was made possible through an educational grant from Roche.
The new bulletin includes a Flu-Fighting Checklist, a free tool for employers that outlines steps people can take to control flu spread. For example, immunization is the first line of defense in preventing influenza, and some workplaces offer flu vaccination programs. Employees can also contact their doctor or local health department to see where vaccines are locally available. Another option is antiviral medication, which can help prevent flu onset following exposure. As a treatment, antivirals such as oseltamitivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) can also reduce severity of flu symptoms and duration of illness.
Employees can also combat germ spread by washing hands frequently, keeping work areas clean, and using tissues properly.
Fifty-eight percent of respondents in the survey said they have had coworkers come to work sick or with the flu this winter, and 30 percent said they have contracted the flu virus from a co-worker. Moreover, additional findings from the survey of U.S. workers indicate that since last year, the challenge of controlling flu in the workplace may be greater than it was
* Only 64 percent of people feel their company encourages employees to stay home if they are sick compared to 75 percent in a December 2004 survey.
* Forty percent of people are annoyed and 46 percent sympathetic when a co-worker comes to work with the flu, as compared to the 34 percent of people in the 2004 survey who reported being annoyed and 55 percent sympathetic.
* Fifty-two percent said their organization does not have a plan in place to prevent the spread of flu in the workplace.
* Of workers polled, 55 percent were concerned about seasonal or regular flu.
(1) Smith AP, et al. Effect of influenza B virus infection on human performance. BMJ. 1993;306:760-761.
(2) Hemp P. Presenteeism: At Work - But Out of It. Harvard Business Review. October 2004, p.1-9.
(3) David Cutler, Harvard University health economist. "Flu vaccine shortage could cost U.S. $20 billion," Associated Press, October 21, 2004.