Feeling under the weather? Avoid going to work sick

By Robert Half on 29th November 2018

With cold and flu season on the horizon, many professionals (unless they’re feeling deathly ill) will face the tough decision of whether to call in sick or just power through. New research has shown an increase in the number of UK employees going to work despite being ill. Last year Nottingham Business School found that the average UK employee spent two weeks a year going to work while they were ill. 

In an ideal world, we’d all have unlimited sick days and someone to bring us chicken soup, but that’s usually not the case. If you don’t have any leave entitlements, the decision for or against going to work sick becomes a lot tougher, and other family arrangements can complicate matters. Besides potentially making your illness worse and infecting others in the process, working when sick costs your employer, too. “Presenteeism,” as working when sick is often called, has its own downsides: It’s estimated to cost employers billions annually in lost productivity. Here are some rules of thumb to decide whether going to work sick is a good idea or not.

When to absolutely stay home

  • If you’re seriously sneezing and coughing. This is how a cold spreads, and if you don’t have your own office, frequent coughing is likely to disturb your colleagues.
  • If you have chills, fatigue and body aches. These are early signs of the flu, and you are actually often contagious a day before you have symptoms.
  • If you have a fever. High-temperature signals that your body is fighting something off and that you need to rest. Not going to work sick and staying home to sleep it off will help you recover more quickly.
  • If you are vomiting or have diarrhoea. Things like food poisoning and 24-hour bugs need one thing more than anything: rest and lots of fluids. 
  • If you’re otherwise contagious. Anyone with a condition such as pinkeye or staph should absolutely stay at home to avoid passing on the illness to others.
  • If the medication you’re on affects your alertness. You won’t be at 100 per cent while trying to do your job, and driving could be dangerous. Don’t risk it.

When going to work sick might make sense

  • If you’re no longer contagious. You are capable of transmitting the cold or flu virus to others for about a week after you initially get sick.
  • If you’re feeling a lot better. Once you’re out of the danger zone, going to work can be a relief from the monotony of staying home sick.
  • If it’s just allergies. They’re annoying, not contagious, so there is no need to worry about getting your co-workers sick from your allergies. Do consider taking a decongestant or antihistamine to minimise your coughing and sneezing, though. 

How to avoid getting sick at work

It’s better to stay home than go to work sick and make everyone around you sick.

  • Wash your hands regularly. Washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is the best way to ensure you don’t spread germs or catch them.
  • Cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow. If you’re fighting off a cold, keep those germs contained by controlling the flow. Coughing or sneezing into your hands is much more likely to spread the contagion.
  • Keep your workplace clean. After you’ve been sick, be sure to wipe down surfaces at your desk with an alcohol-based solution.

If your company allows it, working while sick from home is a good option if you’re contagious but feeling fine mentally. But if you work with the public, you can be a hub for infection, so it’s better to stay home than go to work sick and make everyone around you sick. By taking care of yourself and getting some rest, you’ll be on the road to recovery and back to work more quickly.

If you need backup during cold and flu season, contact our recruitment experts who specialise in the placement of temporary professionals for short-term cover. 

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