Man with bullseye
A recent study from Cintas Corporation noted that 84% of employed U.S. adults have gone to work while sick. Almost half of them neither warn co-workers about their illnesses nor avoid physical contact that could lead to contagion.


The result is often more sickness, which we're seeing right now in the form of seasonal influenza. An MSN Money article, "Flu outbreak is costing companies billions," reports that companies may spend up to $10.4 billion on hospitalization and outpatient visits.

Businesses take another hit, too, in the form of decreased productivity, as sick-but-ignoring-it​ workers struggle through their days.

Why do we do it? Because we're worried about job security and/or we have kids and need to save our sick days for when they get sick.

You can't make a coughing co-worker stay home. You can take control of your own health. A few basic tactics will help you avoid catching whatever's going around.

The Centers for Disease Control suggests these tips:

  • Get the flu vaccine. If you don't have health insurance, see "Find an affordable flu shot."
  • Keep your distance. Avoid close contact with a sick co-worker, friend or family member.
  • Use sanitizing wipes. Sharing a phone or computer with Typhoid Mary? Clean any common surfaces. It's also vital to…
  • Clean your hands. Wash them often with soap and water, or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Don't touch your face. You probably do this a lot more than you realize. Keep your hands away from eyes, nose and mouth -- these are entry points for viruses and germs.
  • Practice good health habits. Drink lots of fluids, eat well, get some exercise, and manage both personal and work-related stresses. Oh, and stop plinking around on Facebook until 1 a.m. -- sleep is important for overall health.

The Mayo Clinic website notes that wearing a surgical mask can help prevent contagion. In public, maybe, but you might feel silly wearing it at work, and fellow employees could be insulted. 

The real cost
If you're the one feeling under the weather right now, stay home if at all possible. Seriously.

It's understandable if you're afraid to call in sick. That was me, years ago, as a "permanent part-time" employee and single mother afraid to get on the wrong side of the supervisor. Maybe your job doesn't come with sick days (hi there, all you 20-hour-a-week retail workers!). Or maybe you're determined to preserve your sick days for when your kids come down with a bug.

But it takes longer to get better if you don't give yourself a break, and the sicker you get the more it will cost you, in two ways:

Literal cost.
You're too exhausted to cook so you pick up takeout for the family. You need extra tissues, OTC meds, juice. You may even wind up paying a doctor when your compromised immune system can't fight off an opportunistic bacterium.

Figurative cost.
Your quality of life heads south. Far south. And if you spread your cooties to co-workers, they will not thank you.

An ounce of prevention is frugal. It also beats being sick for an extra week when a day or two of rest might have made a difference.

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