Illness in the Workplace: Calculating the Cost
When it comes to being sick, the last place most people want to be is at work performing our day-to-day duties. For me personally, I like to rest in bed or possibly nurse a respiratory infection with a warm bowl of chicken noodle soup. Unfortunately, the reality is whether resting at home or trying to get by at work, there is a cost associated with being sick. In this blog I will dive into some of the effects illness has on the workplace and provide solutions to help prevent the spread of illness-causing germs.
The Average Adult Gets Sick 3 Times a Year1
Although we typically think of the winter months as the time for illness, and while cases may increase during this period, germs can spread and cause sickness throughout the year. The result of illness from these germs could range from symptoms as mild as the sniffles to severe infection, which may lead to hospitalization. In all cases, there is the potential that germs from a sick person be spread and transmitted to others. With the average adult experiencing multiple illnesses each year1, it is possible that their infection may have been due to exposure to illness-causing viruses and bacteria at the workplace. Once ill, they may even contribute to the spread of germs at work, infecting more coworkers in the process.
9 in 10 U.S. Workers Say They Worked When Sick Over the Past 12 Months2
Employees often continue to come into work when sick for various personal and employment-related reasons. While the intent of this blog is not to focus on these, I do want to point out that coming to work sick has a cost, also known as presenteeism. This term refers to the loss of productivity when employees are not fully functioning in the workplace. According to the Harvard Business Review, U.S employees working while sick costs employers an estimated $150 billion to $250 billion each year.3 This is equivalent to 60% of the total cost of worker illness.3
Another important drawback of working when sick is the potential spread of illness-causing germs in work settings. Research conducted by the University of Arizona found when one sick employee spends just two to four hours in the workplace, they have the potential of spreading germs to more than 50% of commonly touched surfaces in the area.4 Germs spread easily in work settings, which increases the risk of other employees being exposed and potentially getting sick. A recent CloroxPro study found that facility disruptions such as employee absences and having to close offices are a top concern for offices and Building Service Contractors (BSC).5
Illness-related Absences Are Not Cheap
As important as it is to remain home to rest and recover during times of sickness, workplace absences impact employers. Just as presenteeism results in loss of productivity, so do absences. In the United States each year productivity losses linked to absenteeism cost employers $225.8 billion or $1,685 per employee.3 While absenteeism may look different business to business, the fact remains that absent employees due to sickness costs money and takes a toll in countless ways. To better understand how absenteeism may affect your business, follow this link to an Office Absenteeism Calculator.
Helping to Keep Employees Healthy Is the Best Policy
While there is no perfect fix to keep sick staff members from coming to the office or missing work, and each comes at a cost, there are solutions to help prevent the spread of illness-causing germs, thereby helping protect employees from becoming sick. This is achieved through regular cleaning and disinfection of commonly touched surfaces and shared spaces. To help prevent the spread of germs throughout the day consider the following:
- Use disinfectant wipes as a convenient, time-saving solution in commonly shared spaces like a lobby or conference room.
- Cleaning professionals and office occupants should partner to perform cleaning and disinfecting on shared, frequently touched surfaces.
- Focus on cleaning and disinfection during moments that matter, like the start of the workday, to help keep the workplace safe and achieve cleanliness in spaces year-round.
- Check out this Office Wellness Toolkit for additional information on preventing the spread of germs in the office.
1. Melore C. Average Adult Gets Sick 3 Times Each Year, and Spouses are ‘Most Annoying’ Patients [Internet]. Studyfinds.org. 2022 [cited 2024 Jan 9]. Available from: https://studyfinds.org/average-person-sick-3-times-year/
2. BambooHR. Guilty Until Proven Sick: Why US Workers Don’t Take Sick Leave (2023 Data) [Internet]. [cited 2024 Jan 9]. Available from: https://www.bamboohr.com/resources/guides/sick-guilt-2023
3. CDC Foundation. Worker Illness and Injury Costs U.S. Employers $225.8 Billion Annually [Internet]. [cited 2024 Jan 9]. Available from: https://www.cdcfoundation.org/pr/2015/worker-illness-and-injury-costs-us-employers-225-billion-annually
4. University of Arizona News. Germs Spread Fast at Work, Study Finds [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2024 Jan 9]. Available from: https://news.arizona.edu/story/germs-spread-fast-at-work-study-finds
5. CloroxPro. 2023 Clean Index Study. Data for this report was collected in Spring 2023 an online survey of a nationally representative U.S. General Population based on age, gender, region, race/ethnicity and income and cleaning industry professionals defined as business service contractors, facility managers in education, commercial buildings, and healthcare facilities.