Nearly 90 percent of office workers come to work even when they know they are sick, according to the fourth annual Flu Season Survey from Staples. The findings show a growing trend when compared to last year’s findings indicating 80 percent of workers come to work sick, and up from 60 percent in the 2011 Staples survey.
According to the survey, workers acknowledged that staying out three days when sick with the flu was appropriate. The majority of workers, however, stay out of the office for less than two days when sick, putting coworkers’ health and business productivity at risk. The primary reason most respondents cited for returning to work early was not wanting to fall behind on their workload (45 percent).
The survey does demonstrate that workers have a better understanding of flu prevention:
• 49 percent of respondents understand they are contagious with the flu virus for one day before symptoms develop and up to five-to-seven days after becoming sick, an improvement from 38 percent last year.
• 76 percent of workers correctly identified the break room as the least clean spot in the office, a sharp increase from 26 percent last year.
• 57 percent know that flu viruses can live on a hard surface up to three days, a slight increase from last year; however, 66 percent of employees still only clean their desks once a week or less, up from 51 percent last year.
“Flu season poses a big problem for businesses - each year it causes an estimated 70 million missed workdays and billions in lost office productivity. It’s critical that both employees and employers take notice and promote healthier habits,” said Lisa Hamblet, vice president for facility solutions at Staples Advantage, the business-to-business division of Staples. “That can mean arming a workforce with simple products like hand sanitizer to large-scale industrial cleaning products and techniques. Diligence early in the flu season ensures health and productivity throughout the season.”
First Line of Defense
Only seven percent of facility managers (FMs) identified the break room as the germiest place in the office, demonstrating that even an organization’s FM doesn’t always have the correct information. Staples separately surveyed this group to determine challenges faced during flu season.
Similar to last year, there is uncertainty over the role an FM plays in flu prevention in the workplace:
• 43 percent of FMs believe they’re responsible for the health of building occupants during flu season while 40 percent say it is up to the workers themselves.
• Not even 50 percent of FMs indicated that they ordered critical supplies to help prevent the spread of germs in the office, such as cleaning and disinfecting chemicals.
When asked what would be most helpful for employees to keep in mind to help prevent germs, FMs identified a wide range of preventative measures, from washing hands and not eating at desks, to covering noses/mouths when sneezing and cleaning desks using sanitizing products.
Staples recommends these easy steps to help maintain a healthier work environment:
• Provide appropriate supplies: Employers can help their employees stay healthy throughout flu season by providing the necessary materials. The top three products respondents indicated they would like their employers to provide are hand sanitizer in common areas (47 percent), hand sanitizing wipes on every desk (42 percent) and touch free restroom features (39 percent).

• Offer/encourage a telecommuting program: Twenty-one percent of respondents said they come into work sick because they don’t think they could do their work from home. One way to help address employees coming into the office when sick would be to consider implementing a telecommuting program – or encourage the use of an existing program. Of the respondents whose company offers a telecommuting option, more than 50 percent felt inclined to telecommute to avoid sickness during flu season.
• Log off: While employees admit to coming to work when sick because they don’t want to fall behind on their work, survey results show that productivity drops to under 60 percent of norm when sick. In order to maintain a productive workplace, employers should encourage their employees to take the necessary time to recover when they contract the flu, to protect not only themselves but other workers.