This Global Study Shows Why People Go To Work Sick

"Please stay home." -- Everyone who sits near you.

11/09/2015 03:58 pm ET

You've probably complained about your sneezing, sniffling co-worker, until you're the one to coming into work with a cold. 

Germs seem to spread in the office as mightily as they did back in grade school, and it might be partly because one out of every four Americans shows up to work sick. Now new research finds people around the globe are prone to working when they should be home in bed, most likely due to a combination of high job demands and low job security.

To better understand "presenteeism," or the act of attending work while under the weather, researchers at the University of East Anglia looked at data from 61 previous studies with more than 175,960 participants from 34 countries to identify the most common reasons why people came in when they were sick.

The study found that job demands, including heavy workload, understaffing, time pressures and financial difficulties, were a significant reason people stuck it out in the office. On the other hand, workers will take a sick day when they have supportive colleagues and a positive relationship with managers. 

This latest study corroborates a previous poll that found many American workers saying they "can't afford to be sick and miss work." The research suggests that companies could benefit from reducing employees' workload and overtime hours and also providing them with the resources they need.

"Although increasing job resources, such as job control and colleague, supervisor, and organizational support, can be helpful in tackling presenteeism through their positive impact on health, our results suggest that controlling job demands represents a key line of defense against the behavior," said lead researcher Mariella Miraglia, a lecturer in organizational behavior at UEA's Norwich Business School.

Going to work sick is bad for you and for your company. Beyond putting strain on your immune system and exposing your co-workers, working while sick puts a strain on the economy. According to a 2003 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, sick employees at the office cost the national economy $160 billion in lost productivity every year

Unfortunately, paid sick leave is not mandated in every office in the U.S., though if it were, the country's flu rates would decrease by at least five percent, according to a study from economists at Cornell University and the Swiss Economic Institute. President Barack Obama has begun to repair the issue: This year he announced that starting in 2017, federal contractors must provide workers with paid sick time. The order provides one hour of leave for every 30 hours of work, for up to seven paid sick days a year. 

To reduce the likelihood of getting sick this year, wash your hands and get the flu shot. Oh, and maybe offer to take over a project for your sick colleague -- they'll appreciate it, and so will everyone who sits around them.

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