1 in 4 workers would need to be in the hospital to call in sick, research finds

With flu season upon us, it will be important to take the time off that you need if you get sick. You don’t want to spread your germs to coworkers who haven’t been hit by symptoms yet, or expose yourself to whatever else is lurking in your office. That makes new research findings from Canada Life Group Insurance among UK workers that much more disturbing: Almost a quarter of them — 23% — would have to be in the hospital, or have “no other choice,” to call in sick.

The research touches on “presenteeism” — sort of the opposite of absenteeism — when an employee goes to work despite an illness that prevents him or her from fully functioning at work.

Here’s what else research has found, and how to get serious about your health instead of just showing up when you’re unable to perform well.

Employees feel judged by others when they take sick days

The Canada Life Group Insurance research gave the primary reasons why people come in sick:

  • 17% of people reported not wanting to look “weak” for not coming in over “a short-term illness”
  • 14% are nervous about being seen “as lazy”
  • 13% are nervous about being considered “not dedicated”
  • 12% said that coworkers/company leaders “me feel guilty for taking time off even if I’m ill”

U.S. employees judge others for coming in sick

The trend of workers coming in to the office despite illness isn’t limited to the UK.

Results from the NSF Workplace Flu Survey show that 98% of American workers judge their colleagues for coming in to work sick. But only a sliver of them seem to feel negatively about it — 16% think their coworkers who do this are “selfish or don’t care about the well-being of their co-workers,” while 67% think those who do are “hard workers.”

Only 26% say they’ve come to the office while battling an illness, and 57% say they’d encourage a colleague doing the same thing to head home “if they thought they were too sick to be at work.”

Twenty-five percent say they’ve come in when under the weather “because their boss expects them to come in no matter what.”

Here’s what happens when you stumble into work sick

There’s a chance that your performance will suffer, and you’ll make others ill — in fact, the Canada Life Group Insurance research among UK workers found that 48% of respondents reported getting sick because of an ill coworker more than once.

Paul Avis, Marketing Director at Canada Life Group Insurance, commented on the research in a statement: “It is incredibly worrying it would take something as serious as being hospitalized to dissuade a quarter of British employees from going into work, showing that a ‘stiff upper lip’ culture of presenteeism still pervades the British workforce,” Avis said. “People suffering from illnesses like flu and stomach bugs are unlikely to be productive and risk making their colleagues unwell as well by struggling into work.”

How to beat ‘presenteeism’ at work

We all need to take our health seriously — here’s how to take a sick day and feel less guilty about it.

Employees, don’t come in — but consider lending a hand later

Protect both yourself and others.

Results from the NSF Flu Survey show that you should take precautions by not reporting to work when you feel like you’re coming down with a cold.

“While the inclination might be to power through an illness and go to work when you’re starting to feel run down, the best thing to do is stay home. Going to work not only puts your co-workers at risk of getting sick, but may further strain your immune system,” NSF says. “If you feel you must work while sick, talk to your boss about handling some projects from home or see if one of your co-workers might be able to help out on a project (you can return the favor for them in the future should they become sick).”

Employers, it’s about policy

It isn’t all up to the employee. 2010 research from the Journal of General Internal Medicine on an outbreak of viral gastroenteritis in a long-term care facility sheds light on what employers can do to fight the trend.

“In the current era of frequent international travel and novel pandemic influenza virus outbreaks, vigilance is required to ensure that appropriate, common sense infection control procedures are in place, including enforcement of policies preventing health care staff from working while they are potentially infectious,” the research says. “These policies should include the availability of unrestricted paid sick leave, systematic processes for screening ill employees, and mandatory exclusion rules. A fundamental shift is necessary by health care organizations to view measures like unrestricted sick leave not solely as employee benefits, but rather as real investment opportunities that help protect patient safety.”