Could Coming Into The Office With A Cold Do More Harm Than Good? As Storm Ali hits the UK this week and temperatures drop, cold and flu creeps back into the office. So, how do you avoid contagious colleagues and what do you do if you’re under the weather, but can’t afford to have time off sick?
Absences from the office can be a HR nightmare and can have knock-on effects across the entire business. But is it better to risk coming in and making other colleagues ill, or should you have time off to recover?
Presenteeism can be just as damaging to a company as absenteeism. If employees are in work when they shouldn’t be, due to poor health or a poor mindset, this can have a damaging impact on the work being completed or the morale of the team.
HR & Recruitment Advisor at ELAS, Ann Wiggins, details what you should do to stop the spread of germs around the office and how to spot the signs of presenteeism: “It’s that time of year when the inevitable cold or flu makes it’s appearance, however there are considerations to be made to keep the effects of this to a minimum. When working in an open plan office, with air conditioning, and hot desks it makes it very challenging to stop the spread of these contagious illnesses, however if you are conscientious of this and follow some simple steps you can reduce the risk: Sneezing into a tissue and putting it into the bin Using hand sanitizer regularly Using anti-bacterial wipes on keyboards / mice / phones at the end of the day so the next person has a clean desk to work from. Presenteeism has become an epidemic within the UK. This can take many forms, from attending work when ill, not being ‘present’ at work i.e being distracted and unproductive, to working outside of working time (e.g working through emails on the commute to work). We will all have seen when someone (or ourselves) has come into work full of cold as they have ‘too much to do’ and didn’t want to take the day off as sick leave. This can happen for many reasons, but managers need to be emotionally aware of what is happening and try to understand the reason behind this, it could be the person is over stretched with their work load, or that the company doesn’t provide sick pay and consequently the person can’t afford the day off. However, by enabling or allowing this to happen within the workplace it becomes counterproductive as the person in question is not going to be productive and is likely to pass on their illness to others within the organisation and so the chain reaction starts at great cost to the business. With this in mind, it is important for employees to be able to take time when they are ill, therefore a review of sickness policy may be in order and a cultural change so that employees feel that they can take this time without detrimental consequences. The most effective way to reduce the risk of spreading illness at work is to not attend work if you are contagious! After all, when you are ill, you are less productive, judgement can be impaired and let’s face it, your colleagues will not want to be anywhere near you! So, it is important to take the time to take care of ourselves and be mindful of the consequences to those around us.”
One of the best ways to combat contracting a cold in and around the office, is to understand how we get colds in the first place. Occupation Health Advisor at ELAS, Su-Anne David, explains how the viruses are contracted:
“There are more than 200 viruses that can cause the common cold, but rhinoviruses are by the far the most common culprits. Interestingly, around a quarter of people infected with a common cold virus are lucky enough not to experience any symptoms at all. Common cold and flu viruses try to gain entry into our bodies through our noses. Our noses constantly secret mucus. Viruses become trapped in the sticky snot. Cold air cools the nasal passage and slows down mucus clearance. Viruses can now stick around for longer, trying to dig through the snot to break into our body. Crowded and confined spaces help spread the viruses from person to person.”
There’s also the ongoing debate of whether employees should stay at home if sick, or whether they should come to work. Su-Anne explains which option is the more favourable for companies:
“Most of the time, the common cold manifests with a trilogy of symptoms: sore throat, blocked nose, and cough. An infection with influenza often also manifests with a high temperature, aching, and cold sweats or shivers. It is important to recognise the difference between the common cold and influenza. An employee suffering with influenza should not necessarily go to work. However, should the employee be suffering with a common cold virus (in the absence of a high temperature, aching and cold sweats/shivers) they may well be able to attend work providing good hand hygiene practices are in place and there is sufficient fresh air circulation within the office environment. This is also dependent on how the employee is feeling and how severe the common cold virus is. The option of working from home would be best practice to ensure the avoidance of spreading the virus.”
For more information on how to spot presenteeism in the workplace or how combat spreading germs around the office, contact our team.