It’s that time of year. No, not the holidays—time for cold and flu season, and for too many Americans to go to work sick. According to Wakefield Research, 62% of American workers have gone to work sick, and Monster found that 75% of people would choose to work sick.
In some cases employees work sick because they can’t afford to not get paid. The U.S. Department of Labor says that more than 40 million people don’t have paid sick days. But in many cases, employees just don’t use their paid sick days. Wakefield found that 69% of Americans don’t want to use the sick days they have, and NPR along with Harvard found that 32% of people who have sick days don’t use any of them. (Apparently, this phenomenon also applies to vacation days, but that’s a different story.)
If you can stay home when you’re sick, you absolutely should—without feeling any guilt. Any employers, you should be encouraging your employees to stay home when they need to. It’s better for everyone in the long run. Here’s why.
You’ll get other people sick
It shouldn’t come as a surprise when we tell you that things like the common cold and the flu are very contagious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you can spread the flu to your coworkers up to six feet away. Yes, you can spread the virus by coughing and sneezing, but also by sharing or just touching common office items, like the handle to the restroom door, the copy machine, the door to the fridge, the handle on the coffee pot, and the list goes on and on. Translation: staying at your desk isn’t effective at preventing transmission of the flu.
I know when you’re sick you don’t want to inconvenience your coworkers, to but think of it from their perspective. Most people would rather have a few extra tasks or wait a few more days for your deliverables, than have the flu for up to ten days.
You’ll be less productive and make more mistakes
“Presenteeism” refers to what happens when you come to work when you are sick but are unable to function at your normal productivity level. Research proves that presenteeism is real, and expensive: it costs more than $150 billion annually in lost productivity. Having “medicine head” or feeling “out of it” means more time spent on even basic tasks, and fighting through brain fog to make wise judgments. Even OTC medications can impair your motor skills or cognitive abilities. Queen’s University found that people who go to work sick cost their companies twice as much in productivity losses as those who stay home instead.
You may be sick before you know it
For most viral illnesses like the flu and the common cold, no matter what you do, you are contagious the day before you show any symptoms. You are also contagious for five to seven days after you get sick. Spend those days you know about at home. There’s nothing you can do about those first few, but the rest are within your control.
You’ll get sick even more often
Pushing yourself too hard when you’re sick can weaken your immune system further. In fact, research shows that going to work sick repeatedly is associated with long-term absence due to illness later on. In one study, the risk of being out with an illness later for more than 2 months among those who went to work sick more than six times in the year before the study was 74% higher, even when the researchers controlled for other factors like previous health status and absences.
Co-workers or their families may be immunocompromised
The flu can be deadly for anyone with a weakened immune system, including small children or the elderly—and some of your coworkers are going home to them. According to the CDC, the flu sent more than 310,000 people to the hospital during the 2015-2016 season.
Your recovery will be slower
Research proves that feeling fatigued when you’re sick is normal and necessary; this symptom is a sign that your cells are stressed and that your body needs to rest and recover. Going into work just adds more stress to that situation. You need sleep!
If you’re the boss, you’re a bad example
If you’re the boss or a manager, you’re contributing to an unhealthy work culture and making employees feel they “have” to come in and can’t use sick time. If your company doesn’t offer paid sick time, consider some kind of plan for those who really can’t afford to go without pay when they’re very ill.
Bottom line: it’s not necessary
At the end of the day, going to work sick is actually hurting the bottom line.
Plus, if you’re only suffering from a mild cold, you can use tools like GoToMeeting to work from home, keeping your germs all to yourself. Working from home gives you the flexibility you need to work uninterrupted and rest as needed. Away from office disruption, you may end up being just as productive. And even if you aren’t, trust me, you’re doing more good than harm by staying home.