Ill manners: Many employees will still go to work sick after COVID-19 outbreak ends

  • Alarming survey shows that a third of employees will still head into the office if they’re suffering cold or flu symptoms.
  • Two in five workers admit they’ve probably passed an illness on to a co-worker in the past.
  • Yet a third of respondents don’t really seem to care if they impact their colleagues’ health.

NEW YORK — As companies explore ways to eventually get employees back into the office, it seems many workers plan to keep the same unsafe habits they had before the coronavirus pandemic. A new survey shows a significant number of people may still head into work even if they feel sick once local lockdowns end.

The poll of 2,000 American workers finds one in 14 people admit they’d go to work regardless of how ill they felt. Perhaps even worse, a third of respondents say they’d keep working with cold or flu symptoms because they would miss their co-workers and office banter.

Nearly half the poll, which was commissioned by Thermalcheck, agrees they feel pressure to show up from their boss.

“Despite the pandemic and the advice to avoid others if you feel unwell, there are still a large number of workers who will feel they need to go into the workplace,” a spokesman from Thermalcheck says in a statement. “This approach to working while unwell needs to change and employers need to ensure the safety of their workforce.”

Working while sick: Bad habits are hard to break

Before COVID-19, researchers say 80 percent of workers would go to work with a cold or the flu. Four in 10 people admit they’d continue working with a bad cough. More than half say a stomach ache wouldn’t keep them home.

Over a third of adults selfishly agree they don’t usually think about their co-worker’s health when they go to work sick. Feeling guilty for dumping work on another person was the biggest reason respondents say they work while under the weather.

Employees also say they have too much to get done to take a sick day and want to be seen as a “hard worker.” As a result, nearly 40 percent of adults believe they’ve passed an illness to a co-worker.

Employees want a safer workplace

A majority of adults say it should be their employer’s responsibility to make sure their offices are clean and germ-free.

The survey finds 73 percent of workers would feel safer if their colleagues had to get a temperature check before entering the workplace. Over half of the poll want their employers to make sure workers follow company guidelines for cleanliness and social distancing.

“What is clear is there is an expectation from employees to feel comfortable to return to work with the right precautions in place, and they want to feel their company takes things seriously,” the Thermalcheck spokesman explains.

Will the post-pandemic world stay safe for long?

Despite wanting change, many believe their office will quickly go back to the way things were before COVID-19. One in six people tell the survey they’re worried their company won’t do enough to ensure safety after the pandemic. A quarter of respondents doubt their workplace will take safety guidelines seriously.

Twenty-eight percent of workers believe their co-workers will stop regularly washing their hands and staying home when sick within two weeks of the lockdown’s end.

Nearly 60 percent of the poll add they think their co-workers will take advantage of new safety guidelines and call out sick without an illness.

For some, coming back to work too early has already led to the coronavirus spreading. U.S. states like California and Texas have rolled back their reopening due to new spikes in COVID-19 cases.

The survey was conducted by OnePoll.

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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  1. It’s pretty short sighted to blame workers. They often have no choice. I’ve been forced to go to work with COVID because staying home could cost me my job. We are a culture obsessed with work and we also hate unions. So this is what we get…

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