Maybe the tale of western frontier legend Typhoid Mary should be required reading for workers who show up at the office when they should be home in bed.
According to an Office Team survey, employees and their managers are fully aware that about 70 percent of sick employees bring their illness to the office rather than staying home and getting well. Especially with flu season upon us, Office Team (and common sense) tells us, such behavior -- whatever the motivation -- exacts a huge price in terms of lost productivity as these stolid soldiers share their illness with co-workers.
The survey extracted data from 400 U.S. office workers and 300 office managers. The objective was to determine how often sick workers don't stay home, and to find out if the managers of these office workers knew they were too sick to be at work.
The data was not comforting. Seven in 10 workers agreed that they came to work sick, and 65 percent of the managers acknowledged that they knew it was going on but looked the other way.
Not surprisingly, workers in the 35- to 44-year-old age group were the most likely to come to work sick (88 percent said they did). These warhorses are in their prime for raising families, establishing a career and pushing for career advancement. They don't want to miss any opportunity to address all three.
"Many professionals fear falling behind or feel that they can't afford to take a sick day, so they head into work when they are under the weather," said Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam. "Managers should encourage their teams to stay home when they are sick. Let staff know that there's nothing heroic about spreading colds and flus."
In response to the survey results, OfficeTeam had five recommendations for managers to counteract this unhealthy behavior:
- Address the issue head-on. At the start of cold or flu season, remind staff to avoid spreading illness throughout the office by staying home when they are sick.
- Model the behavior. If you're a manager, resist the urge to come in sick yourself. If you do, employees will assume the same is expected of them.
- Give "homework." Offer those suffering from minor ailments the ability to work from home, if possible. They may be less likely to come in and infect others if they don't have to use sick days.
- Keep it clean. Encourage staff to clean up common areas such as break rooms and make hand sanitizer available to avoid the spread of germs.
- Have a back-up plan. Identify team members and temps who can take over responsibilities for sick employees to avoid backlogs.
And Typhoid Mary? Well, she roamed frontier towns in the 19th century, caring for sick cowboys who almost all eventually died of typhoid. Only much later did someone figure out that Mary, in fact, had a dormant case of typhoid herself and was giving it to the likes of Wild Bill Hickok by trying to nurse them back to health from some less-lethal illness.