The flu virus can result in almost 70 million lost work days and up to $10 billion in lost productivity in one year. So says the third annual Flu Season Survey conducted by Staples, the global office products retailer.
The survey also reports that nearly 80 percent of office workers polled come to work even when they know they are sick, an increase of 20 percent from the previous year. And, even if employees stay home, more than two-thirds return to work when they are still contagious, which negatively impacts both co-workers’ health and business productivity.
Almost half of employees stated the reason for not staying home was to complete their work. Twenty-five percent of employees said they didn’t want to use a sick day.
While flu germs can be difficult to avoid, the survey also highlighted the mistaken notions about germs and what can be done to prevent their spread:
• 51 percent of employees clean their desks once a week or less, even though germs can live on surfaces for up to three days, especially on computer keyboards—typically one of the dirtiest personal workspace items.
• 25 percent believe that door knobs/handles are the dirtiest places in the office, while only 6 percent recognize that the break room sink is actually the dirtiest, followed by the office microwave, which only 8 percent selected.
• 65 percent feel the number of days necessary to be out with the flu is one to three days. Since the flu virus may be contagious for one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after symptoms develop, these employees may still be contagious when returning to work.
Staples separately surveyed Facility Managers and building service contractors who often have the responsibility for cleaning work spaces. Challenges they face include:
• More employees working in less space
• Lack of staff to adequately clean
• Budget decreases for cleaning products
Educating employees is important. Staples reviewed previous survey results and found that employees really need to know how often to clean their desks, how long to stay home when ill, and which office areas need to be disinfected. The results indicate that most employees aren’t aware of the germs lurking in company break rooms.
Other ideas include offering telework options for employees who are still contagious, and stocking up on sanitizing wipes and other disinfecting cleaning products.
The survey was conducted online in September 2012 and asked employees a series of questions about their flu knowledge and workplace hygiene.