Helpful or Harmful: The Real Costs of Going to Work Sick

Most of us have faced the dilemma that morning when we wake up with an annoying scratchy throat and fevered brow…  Ugh! Do I go to work or not?

Then the pressure is on.
There are deadlines looming. An important meeting that can’t be missed.  An overriding fear of ‘missing something’ or not being there to field that VIP client call.  Some companies don’t even offer sick days, so not being paid could impact a worker’s finances. Or maybe, we are simply afraid that we might lose our job. We KNOW that we aren’t operating at 100%. Or 50%, for that matter. But ‘being there’ seems to trump how cruddy we actually feel.
As a result, most of us drag ourselves in… either out of a sense of duty or fear.
But what is the real cost of ‘sharing’ our hive of germs with our workmates?
From an HR standpoint, it can be extremely costly. 
Realistically, everyone has varying levels of immune resistance, and even in a moderately-sized office, you could potentially pass your cold on to several co-workers. We all know this can have a domino effect as this, in turn could result in even more missed days from work… impacting productivity on a greater scale.
In fact, according to, “Overall, ‘presenteeism’ (which describes the situation when sick people go to work) is said to cost U.S. companies nearly $180 billion each year in
lost productivity.”
That’s a lot of us showing up work sick. also had a segment on this issue that reported that “almost half, or 48 percent, of employers report a problem with presenteeism. That’s up from 39 percent last year, and it’s a situation more organizations are taking seriously.”
Employers ARE taking this seriously note. When we are not operating in a normal capacity, the potential for errors and / or omissions goes up exponentially. If our brains are fogged by cold medicine or lack of sleep, we could make critical mistakes that either impact our work or those of
For that reason, some employers are starting to be more assertive in enforcing their sick policies, with a keen eye to the bottom line.

According to the segment, “Sixty-two percent (of employers) say they send sick employees home; 41 percent educate employees on the importance of staying home when sick; and 36 percent try to discourage employees from coming to work when they’re ill.”

So do you or don’t you show up to work with the sniffles and a box of tissues tucked under your arm?
You need to weigh the real costs versus your expectations carefully.   Can work go on without you? Probably.  Is there an important meeting that you simply cannot miss? Potentially… but what other options do you have at your disposal? 

Many employers and employees are finding that telecommuting has become a reasonable alternative – you can check email or call in to a meeting / teleconference, and your germs stay with you at home and you don’t share your abundance with your grateful co-workers.

If your office doesn’t have a policy about telecommuting when you are sick, maybe this is a good time to propose one before you are under the weather.   Most people who do stay home usually are checking their email and voicemail anyway, so making it ‘official’ can make the situation a win-win for everyone. 
Taking a day or two to recover can help you get well faster, reduce risk to your fellow colleagues, reduce errors made when you aren’t operating at 100%, and cause employers to appreciate the fact that you aren’t contributing to lower productivity levels either through presenteeism or by causing others to miss work.