U.S. office workers determined to avoid sick coworkers during cold and flu season, finds Staples

by Brianna Crandall — December 14, 2016 — Trying to avoid cold and flu in the workplace has reached somewhat desperate levels, as nearly half of people surveyed would give up a vacation day to a sick coworker to ensure they do not bring illness to the workplace, according to the seventh annual cold and flu season survey from office supply retail giant Staples.

Findings show that while the U.S. workforce is keenly aware of the dangers as well as prevention tactics surrounding seasonal illness, personal accountability remains low, with nearly 80% of employees still going to work sick.

Staples infographic

This Staples Business Advantage infographic gives eight flu facts for business owners and managers. Click on image to enlarge.

Employees have a ready-made excuse when they get sick — it is the fault of their sick coworkers. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of employees have caught a cold or the flu at work, and nearly one-third (32%) blame sick coworkers for getting ill themselves last year.

Awareness of the cold/flu and prevention tactics not the issue for employees

Most employees continue to indicate a strong knowledge of the cold and flu, as well as prevention techniques, particularly managers:

  • Presenteeism vs. absenteeism: Two-thirds (67%) say an employee going into work sick, but not fully productive, is worse for a business than an employee who stays home and does not work when sick; this represents a sharp increase from 31% of respondents who said the same in 2014.
  • Prevention also prevalent, particularly among managers: 47% of managers typically clean/sanitize their work-related equipment on a daily basis, compared with just 34% of all U.S. workers.
  • Nearly half (44%) of managers called in sick when they were not, in order to avoid sick coworkers, compared with 21% of all U.S. workers.
  • Awareness still strong: 58% know that cold and flu viruses can live on a surface for up to three days, slightly up from last year’s survey.

Employers can do their part to maintain a healthy work environment:

  • Less than half (only 48%) of employees say their office provides disinfecting wipes to clean their work surfaces. To combat this, if employers are not providing these or other disinfectant products, 77% bring them to the workplace on their own.
  • Nearly two-thirds (61%) of workers think employers should offer office-wide flu shots.
  • Although most employers provide sick days, too many employees hesitate to use them when they should. A full 74% think employers should encourage workers to rest and get better when they get sick.
Need for personal accountability remains

Knowledge is high but action is low, as year after year, workers do not practice what they preach with regard to keeping illness at home. Fully 79% of workers went to work sick last year, and workload pressures continue to keep them in the office. Nearly half (41%) felt there was too much going on at work to take a sick day, even though nearly three-quarters of employers (74%) provide designated sick days. The majority of employees abide by the notion of sticking it out, as more than half (52%) say going to work sick makes them “hardworking and committed.”

Chris Correnti, vice president of Staples Facility Solutions at Staples Business Advantage, the business-to-business division of Staples, commented:

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. 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.

The survey was conducted by Morar Consulting among 1500 U.S. office workers. All were working full-time and spend at least 50% of their time working in an office environment. 704 were business decision makers and the remaining 796 were general office workers.

More results from the 2016 Flu Survey as well as the Staples blog post “You’d Give Up Vacation for What?!“ are available online.

Staples Business Advantage, Staples.com and Staples stores offer products and tips to keep businesses of all sizes running smoothly during flu season. From simple items such as hand sanitizers to large-scale industrial cleaning products, Staples has solutions to keep workers healthy and productive. For more information, visit the Staples Cold and Flu Supplies Center and Staples Business Advantage Health and Wellness Center, as well as Staples’ more general Resources for Facility Managers Web page.

For more advice specifically to facilities managers concerning illness in the workplace, see also “Developing a Facility Safety Program? Consider Workplace Wellness,” from FMJ magazine, on FMLink.