It's Sick Season and People Are Still Coming to Work

One recent survey shows that most Americans feel pressure to show up to work sick.

As it turns out, 4 out of 5 Americans workers are not willing to stay home from work when they’re sick. But, most Americans would also prefer that their sick co-worker stay home when they’re ill. So, what gives?

It’s officially flu season—and cold season, and other sickness season. Fall and winter months mean most people are under the weather, and when people come to work while sick, the issue literally spreads and problem stays unsolved.

A recent study from OnePoll, on behalf of the cold medication company Robitussin, surveyed 2,000 U.S. adults—1,930 of whom held jobs—about sickness in the workplace and dealing with sick co-workers.

The results showed that most people, actually 78 percent, reported “feeling pressure to power through the workday when they’re feeling under the weather,” reported a Nov. 7 press release. But ironically, 82 percent said they would be annoyed if a co-worker showed up with a cough. And 41 percent say they would rather take on the extra workload temporarily than have a co-worker come to work sick, says one Safety + Health article.

Why not? For the most part, people are worried it would be frowned upon—by bosses or co-workers—for them to miss work, and most people don’t think being sick is seen as a valid reason to take a day off.

When it comes to a bad cough, 69 percent feel that’s not a good enough reason to stay home from work. Plus, one in three fear their boss would not consider it a valid reason to stay home from work either. At the same time, most people—52 percent—will assume someone is sick if they start coughing.

The survey confirms the fact that most people do not stay home when sick because of stress: stress associated with telling their boss and stress associated with falling behind in work. In fact, the survey revealed that 42 percent of employees derive stress from attempting to call out sick.

Let’s face it: sickness in the workplace is inevitable, especially during cough and cold season. More than that concern, though, is the troubling fact that most people do come to work sick. Choosing to power through could even hurt your standings with your co-workers, especially since three quarters (82 percent) said they’d be annoyed if someone showed up at the office with a cough.

Annoyed can mean everything from telling a sick co-worker to go home or physically moving away from them to avoid the spread of germs. Nearly half (48 percent) of respondents said they would tell their sick co-worker to go home if they say that their co-worker was visibly sick and coughing. And 44 percent said they will immediately move away from someone who is coughing out of fear of getting sick, too.

Coughing can be an embarrassing experience, too. Over half of respondents (52 percent) said coughing in a quiet place, like a library or movie theatre, is a humiliating experience. And being sick takes a toll on us, according to psychologist Dr. Susan Bartell. Coughing causes sleepless nights and unproductive work days, and it affects other things like chores, errands, and other burdens.

Being sick is annoying for the suffering and bystanders, and people will try very hard to stay healthy. For example, over one-third (37 percent) of those surveyed would even give up their vacation time for a year to be cough- or cold-free.

Another 36 percent would say goodbye to social media if it meant they could go an entire year without a cough or cold. Even 33 percent would be willing to give up their favorite food to avoid a cough or cold for a whole 12 months. Other sacrifices people would make to avoid sickness included giving up sleeping in on the weekend and not watching a favorite TV show, according to one SWNS article .

These are the following situations that induce stress from someone during sick season, by percent: showing up to work sick (46); sending kids to school knowing they’re sick (44); canceling plans with friends or family due to illness (44); feeling a cough coming right before an important presentation (42); calling out of work sick (42).

The survey also listed the top 10 most embarrassing situations people reported, by percent: coughing in a quiet place (52); getting an answer wrong in front of the boss (43); passing gas in public (37) ; forgetting someone’s name (40); falling asleep in public (37); having hiccups in a meeting (36); tripping in public (36); significant other having a temper tantrum in public (34); child having a temper tantrum in public (34); and speaking in front of a large group (32).

As you can see, coughing in a quiet place ranks as number one. If you’re sick, you’re likely to have a cough, and it can be hard to control when and where you have a bad coughing fit.

People are more inclined to come to work, suffer through the day, and risk getting co-workers sick when they are ill. This survey helped bring to light how easy it is to get sick, and how you can help prevent the spread of germs by simply staying home from work and talking with your boss. It just might save someone else from battling the flu all winter long.

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