New research finds if the job market is strong, more workers get the flu

Well, researchers finally found one thing about the tight job market that’s bad for workers: you’re more likely to get the flu.

New research from Ball State University has found that a one percentage point increase in the employment rate complements increases in the number of flu-related doctor’s visits by about 16%.

This effect is most conspicuous in the retail and healthcare sectors, where there are very high levels of interpersonal contact.

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To avoid their workers ending up at the doctor’s office, instead of work, businesses should take care as the flu season approaches, planning on keeping sick workers at home, which will reduce risk of a widespread infection, says research from the study, “The Effects of Employment on Influenza Rates.”

All sorts of typical activities having to do with work could contribute to spreading the flu, said study co-author Erik Nesson, an associate professor of economics at Ball State – using public transportation, taking carpools, working in offices, having children in daycare, working in a job which puts you in contact with the public, and more.

“Employers should consider differences in the lost productivity from many employees becoming infected with influenza versus the lost productivity from a few infected individuals taking sick leave,” Nesson said. “Workers concerned about missing pay or losing their jobs as the result of staying home from work due to illness will be less likely to heed early signs of influenza infection and stay home.

Nesson says the seriousness of an upcoming flu season can be predicted depending on how well the economy is doing. “For example, if the economy is on an upswing” – meaning more workers in the workforce – “the public health community should plan for an above-normal increase in flu incidence.”