Not Feeling Well? 4 Reasons You Should Not Go to Work Sick

Practices like skipping vacation days and staying ever later at the office have earned Americans a reputation for being workaholics. Though ambition is great for motivation and morale, it can also drive folks to make some pretty poor choices when it come to illness. Staying home from school is a no-brainer for kids, but somewhere along the line, our attitude toward sick days completely changes. According to Staples’ 2014 survey on illness in the workplace, 60% of employees go to the office sick, often fearing they’ll fall too far behind if they take a few days off.

Though the number of people heading to the office while ill has dropped overall in recent years, the number of health care providers who show up when they’re sick is significantly higher. A recently published study conducted at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found 83% of physicians and clinicians came to work sick at least once over the course of a year.

The issue has become so prevalent that it actually has a name: presenteeism, a term coined in 2004. While you may think heading to the office with the sniffles is no big deal, it can be hazardous for you and those around you. We’ve unearthed four reasons why going to work sick is a big mistake. The next time you’re feeling under the weather, skip dragging yourself to work and sip some chicken soup instead.

1. You’ll make your coworkers sick

sick at work, office, coworker

Source: iStock

When sick employees head to work, they’re usually thinking about the work they have to get done, the money they have to make, or their reputation as a hard worker. Often missing is the realization they’ll be putting every one of their colleagues at risk. Both direct contact with someone who’s ill and breathing air that’s been infected can cause spread sickness. Exactly how contagious a person is will vary based on their specific illness, but there are some clear warning signs. According to Everyday Health, fever, coughing, and sneezing are all signs it’s time to keep your distance for a few days.

Staying home is no guarantee your coworkers won’t catch the same bug, but you can significantly lessen the chances of passing it along. A 2013 study from The University of Pittsburgh found taking two days off decreases the risk of spreading the flu to colleagues by almost 40%. Even one day was enough to cut risk by 25%.

Your thoughts should extend beyond just the people you see at work, because they have families and friends of their own who could catch the same bug. Bloomberg Business pointed out around 40,000 people die from the flu and related complications each year, and you could be directly contributing to such fatalities if you pass it to a coworker who has family members in poor health.

2. It’ll take you longer to get better

Sleeping, hungover, water, pills

Source: iStock

There’s a reason, other than sympathy, that people tell friends to “take it easy” or “get some rest” when they’re sick. Taking time to recuperate is the best, and often only, way to get back to feeling your best. CNN reported working yourself too hard in the early stages of sickness can lead to a longer recovery since inadequate rest compromises your immune system. Even if you bounce back from one type of cold, you could easily contract another one. There are also implications for your future health. A 2009 Danish study revealed employees who regularly worked through sickness were 74% more likely to suffer a long-term illness later on.

Feel free to go for any of your favorite at-home remedies, just don’t forget about sleep. Sleep of the simplest, but most effective way to heal your body. Dr. Robert Rosenberg, DO, medical director at Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley, told Discovery News, “we put out most of our growth hormone in deep sleep, and growth hormone is important in terms of repairing tissue, muscle, everything you could think of that has to do with repair.” The more you sleep, the better your chances of a quick recovery.

3. Your work performance will suffer

man sleeping at work

Source: iStock

When your nose is clogged and your head is pounding, those are probably the two things you’re most focused on. Trying to work when you feel so terrible almost guarantees you’ll be less productive and a lot more likely to make mistakes. Since so many people continue to head to work when they’re sick, that adds up to a lot of wasted time. Some estimate this lost work costs U.S. companies more than $150 billion a year.

With advances in technology, the opportunities to work from home are growing. Some sick employees might find themselves tempted to set up their office at home, but it still isn’t a good idea. If you feel too out of it to go work in the first place, you probably won’t be much better off working from your own desk. Close the laptop, turn off the lights, and get some rest.

4. You could get into a serious accident

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

While there aren’t tons of studies dedicated to to how illness affects driving, there are a handful that suggest it could be quite dangerous. One from 2009 found those suffering from a cold or the flu experienced a 10% decrease in their reaction timing when using a driving simulator. Though that might not sound like much, it could be the difference between a catastrophic collision and a mere fender bender. Yet another from 2012 reported sick individuals were more likely to tailgate and had more difficulty handling unexpected situations.

The role medications play is just as important. Many over-the-counter drugs list drowsiness as one of the top side effects, making you even more of a hazard on the road. If you’re hacking and sneezing, it’s better to play it safe.

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