Cold-and-flu season is notoriously unpredictable, but there’s one thing you can count on: people will get sick. And when they do, many will bring their germs to work, putting others at risk.
Why? They feel they’re “essential” or have too much on their plates. A survey released today by Kimberly-Clark Professional found that 59% of people go to work when they’re sick. Three in 10 said it was because they were too important to the business operation, which prompts the question: are their germs essential too?
A cough, a sneeze, an unwashed hand touching an elevator button, stair railing, ATM machine, or other “hot spot” in an office or other location: that’s all it takes to spread cold and flu germs. Viruses on surfaces like sink faucets and door handles can spread rapidly, especially in public places, and studies have shown that workers are exposed to illness-causing bacteria right in their own break rooms and other places around the office.
While you may not be able to change the behavior of others, there are things you can do to protect yourself. Chief among them is to wash, wipe, and sanitize. That message appears to be getting through. According to the survey:
- 79% wash their hands after coming in contact with a sick colleague.
- 97% wash their hands after using the restroom as a way to avoid getting sick.
- 81% use a hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes.
- 84% said the top motivator for using products to avoid colds and the flu was easy access.
“Germs can be spread throughout the workplace and elsewhere when people touch hot spots that have been contaminated by people who are ill,” said Dr. Charles Gerba, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Arizona. “That’s why individual efforts can make such a big difference. If you stay home when you’re sick, you won’t be passing your germs around the break room and other places.”
Last year’s flu season was particularly nasty—an epidemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s yet another reason you need to prepare to take care of yourself before it’s too late. Here are some actions you can take:
- Step up. Provide convenient and accessible tools to help break the chain of germ transmission.
- Take action to prevent the spread of germs. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze and then throw the tissue away. If you don’t have a tissue handy, cough or sneeze into the inner part of your sleeve at the elbow.
- If you get sick, stay home; encourage co-workers to do the same. Don’t put other people at risk because you feel you’re too “essential” to stay away from the office. If you do become sick with a flu-like illness, the CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.
- Check your germ personality. A new quiz from Kimberly-Clark Professional can tell you where you stand on the germaphobe spectrum. The results may surprise you.
Conducted by ORC International on behalf of Kimberly-Clark Professional, the telephone survey used two national probability samples, which, when combined, consisted of 1,005 adults, 18 years of age and older, living in the continental United States. ORC collected 655 interviews from the landline sample and 350 interviews from the cell phone sample; 423 of these adults were employed full or part time. The interviews were conducted from February 28 – March 3, 2013. The margin of error for the total sample is +/- 3.1%, and 4.8% for those employed full or part time, at the 95% confidence level.