Sick Days Are Long Gone for US Office Workers

As flu season approaches, nearly 70% of employees admit to coming into the office while sick, a habit that may increase the spread of illness in the workplace. Even with heightened preventive measures at businesses across the country, this finding from a recent survey by Staples Advantage confirms that office workers continue to stick to old habits.

“Thankfully, today much is known about how germs and viruses cause illness,” noted Lisa Hamblet, vice president for the facility solutions and service business of Staples Advantage. “Armed with knowledge and a thorough cleaning regimen, businesses can take positive steps to change habits and combat the flu, keep sickness at bay, and promote a healthy and productive office. A proactive approach to prevention is the best defense.”
This year’s flu and germ survey, which polled more than 150 U.S. office workers, revealed some of the workforce’s cleaning and health habits at the office. For example:

  • Sick Days May Be a Thing of the Past: While nearly one-third of respondents’ companies have sick day policies, more than 60% of employees felt compelled to go into work because there was “too much going on” or felt the need to “tough it out.”
  • More than Your Inbox Needs Cleaning: People are more consumed with cleaning their e-mail inbox than their physical workspace. Nearly half of all workers clean their inboxes at least once a day, whereas only 15% clean their physical workplace at least once a day.

Survey findings about perceptions of the dirtiest office items include:

  • Nearly one-third of respondents believe their keyboard and phone are the dirtiest items in their office, yet less than 10% clean these items often.
  • About 15% think the breakroom dish sponge is the dirtiest item in the office. Half of respondents also noted that colleagues leave dirty dishes in the kitchen.
  • Less than 10% say they clean desk surfaces very often with disinfectants or sanitizing products, a concerning habit, since nine out of 10 respondents also said many employees at their company eat meals at their desks.

Nearly 100% of survey respondents noted they are concerned with catching a virus at work, but less than 40% have taken additional preventive measures to keep germs at bay. As an aside, December 4th starts National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW), a national observance established to highlight the importance of flu vaccinations.

The following easy steps can help offices and employees maintain a healthier environment:

  • Focus on the simple solution: Proper hand washing is the most important technique that many people ignore. Ensure proper hand washing by providing self-foaming soap, touch-free fixtures, and motion sensor dispensers in bathrooms.
  • Be prepared: Some important products to have on hand, just in case, include latex gloves, masks, sanitizing wipes, and disinfecting cleaning chemicals. Also, clean common touch surfaces such as bathroom doors, elevator buttons, and ATM machines more frequently.
  • Use technology as much as possible: Technology and home office solutions can help encourage employees to stay home when sick to prevent the spread of germs and the flu. Whenever possible, promote telecommuting as an option for employees when they’re feeling ill.

“Organizations of all sizes can create effective cleaning programs to help reduce the spread of office germs,” said Roger McFadden, senior scientist at Staples Advantage. “However, individuals can also do their part to protect themselves and their co-workers from germs – for example, encourage respiratory etiquette, use tissues, clean up your workspace, and wash hands properly.”

Staples Advantage conducted an online survey at organizations of all sizes across the U.S. The survey, conducted in July 2011, asked a series of questions about hygiene in the workplace and office sick day policies.