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Build Your Career Office Life

Got The Flu? Blame Your Co-Workers

Credit: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

If you suffer through the flu this winter, there is a good chance your co-workers are to blame for your misery, new research finds.

A study from Staples revealed that more than 70 percent of employees have caught a cold or the flu while at work, with nearly one-third blaming co-workers for getting them sick last year.

The problem is that although most professionals know the dangers of coming to work when they're not feeling well, they still do it. The study discovered that nearly 80 percent of workers admit to heading into the office while sick.

Many employees blame their high workloads for their decisions to trudge into work when sick with a cold or the flu. Although 74 percent of employers provide their staff with designated sick days, more than 40 percent of workers said they have too much going on at the office to take advantage of those paid days off.

Even though they could be getting others sick, more than half of those surveyed said that by coming to work when not feeling well, they are showing their bosses how "hardworking and committed" they are. [See Related Story: Is 'Presenteeism' Making Workers Sick?]

Despite the message these sick workers think they're sending, most employees said they realize they aren't doing their employers any favors. More than two-thirds of those surveyed said an employee going into work when ill, but not fully productive, is worse for a business than an employee who stays home and takes off work when sick.

"Seasonal illnesses like the flu and the common cold wreak havoc on the workplace, and the impact is even greater when sick employees continue to show up to the workplace," Chris Correnti, vice president of Staples Facility Solutions at Staples Business Advantage, said in a statement.

Many bosses will take a day off just to stay away from a colleague who might be sick, the research discovered. The study found that 44 percent of managers called in sick when they weren't actually ill, in order to avoid sick co-workers, compared with just 21 percent of employees who did so.

Corenti said those in charge need to set a better example for workers who aren't feeling well.

"Managers need to lead by example and stay home when they are sick, and both employees and employers need to be held accountable for keeping germs at bay in the workplace by providing the right tools to maintain a healthy workplace," Corenti said.

The study shows that 47 percent of managers typically clean and sanitize their work-related equipment daily, compared with just 34 percent of employees who do so.

The problem is that many employers don't give their workers the necessary cleaning supplies to combat germs. Less than half of employees surveyed said their offices provide disinfecting wipes to clean work surfaces.

In order to stay healthy, NSF International, a public health and safety organization, advises employees to follow some simple guidelines, including that they should:

  1. Beware of common items: Employees should wipe down their workplaces with a disinfectant daily, and wash their hands after touching common items like the refrigerator, microwave, door handle and faucets.
  2. Wash hands: Workers need to wash their hands before eating, after reading magazines in the break room, and after meetings in which they're sharing office equipment or shaking hands with people. Workers should wash their hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
  3. Stay hydrated: Dehydration, when combined with a lack of sleep and stress, compromises an immune system. So employees should avoid drying out by keep jugs of water at their desks to drink.
  4. Vitamins: When workers start to feel under the weather, they need to consult with their health care providers about taking supplements, such as vitamin C or zinc. 
  5. No touching: Employees must make a conscious effort to avoid touching their faces during the workday. Making contact with eyes, noses and mouths gives germs direct access to the body and further compromises the immune system.

The study was based on surveys of 1,500 office workers at U.S. businesses. Of those workers, 704 were business decision makers and 796 were general office employees.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.