“If I’m going to feel lousy, I may as well go into the office and get some work done.”
“I’ve got so much to do; I can’t afford not to go in.”
“It’s just a little cough.”
At one time or another, probably all of us have uttered these sentences in defense of dragging our sneezing, wheezing, coughing, flu- and cold-ridden selves out of our sickbeds and into the office.
Equally true, we’ve all heard the phrase, “I’m not that sick,” uttered from a co-worker or client’s lips — only to find ourselves down and out for a week with their illness a few days later. Going to work when sick has become such a growing trend that it’s earned its own moniker — presenteeism.
Wikipedia defines presenteeism as “the opposite of absenteeism. In contrast to absenteeism, when employees are absent from work, presenteeism discusses the problems faced when employees come to work in spite of illness, which can have similar negative repercussions on business performance.”
Of course, many web workers don’t actually head into an office, so don’t need to worry about infecting co-workers. But working while ill can have other repercussions, too. An October 2004 Harvard Business Review article titled “Presenteeism: At Work — But Out of It”, highlighted a study commissioned by Lockheed Martin to assess the impact of 28 medical conditions (including migraines, asthma and the flu) on workers’ productivity.
Researchers from Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston found that even employees with less severe conditions had impaired on-the-job performance and that, in total, employees who came to work with these 28 conditions cost the company approximately $34 million a year.
So if coming to work when sick is bad for the patient’s health, and equally as detrimental to the business’s bottom line, why do we continue to do it?
According to the findings of the Unscheduled Absence Survey by CCH, a part of Wolters Kluwer Law & Business, 66 percent of those surveyed said that having too much work and fear of missing deadlines were the most common reasons they came to work when sick. Another 56 percent cited lack of anyone to cover their workload as the reason, and 36 percent are showing up out of company loyalty.
And while a strong work ethic and company loyalty are to be admired, they may not be reason enough to leave the house when you’re sick. This flu season has not only begun with a wallop, but on June 11, 2009, the World Health Organization declared that a global pandemic of H1N1 flu is underway. With all these nasty beasties floating about, but a pressure to be productive lurking, it’s hard to know what to do, when to stay home and when you’re clear to go out.
Of course, good old-fashioned common sense (and mom’s advice) dictates for most of us how to handle the situation: Wash our hands, cover our mouths, don’t go to work with a fever etc. But hey, why take my, or mom’s, word for it? According to the CDC web site flu.gov, here’re their recommendations for keeping the cruddy stuff from spreading.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures.
- If you must have close contact with a sick person (for example, hold a sick infant), try to wear a facemask or N95 disposable respirator.
As for the time required to be away from your fellow citizens, flu.gov says stay home if you are sick until at least 24 hours after you no longer have a fever (100°F or 37.8°C) or signs of a fever, without the use of a fever-reducing medicine. For more details, check out
Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, I’m writing this column on my laptop from the comfort of my bed, which I have been confined to for the past four days since coming down with a whopper of a cold I picked up at a play. I guess all the hand washing in the world couldn’t make up for the guy in the row behind me hacking away at the back of my head all night.
Do you suffer from presenteesim, and struggle to work even when you’re ill?