Sniffle while you work? Most adults feel they can’t call out even if they’re very sick

NEW YORK — Do you feel that you need to show up for work even if you’re feeling under the weather? If so, you’re not alone. A survey of 2,000 Americans found that more than three-quarters (78%) of respondents feel pressure to power through the work day even when they’re sick. In most instances, that pressure results in the employee ignoring their better judgment and attending work — putting their coworkers at risk for catching whatever it is they have.

The survey, in which nearly all (1,930) respondents were employed, was commissioned by the cold medication company Robitussin and conducted by OnePoll.

One common reason for dragging oneself to work in the midst of a cold or other ailment is stress. The survey showed that 42% of workers feel stressed out when they attempt to call out sick.

Yet staying home when potentially carrying a contagious ailment is a gesture that many people appreciate. The survey found 41% of those surveyed said they would rather cover for their colleague and take on extra work temporarily than work with a sick fellow employee.

Still, somehow 69% of respondents agree that a severe cough is not a good enough reason to skip work for the day. Perhaps adding to that notion is a third think their boss also wouldn’t think it’s a good enough reason, either. However, puzzlingly, 52% said they assume a severe cough means a person is getting sick.

Despite most Americans opting to attend work while sick, the survey also illustrated just how annoyed many become if someone else follows this practice. More than four in five respondents (82%) went so far as to say they get ticked off when someone shows up to work with a cough.

Cough and sickness stigma in the workplace is real. In all, 48% of respondents said they would tell a coughing, visibly sick co-worker next to them to go home. Another 44% said they immediately move away from a coughing co-worker out of fear they’ll get sick, too. Interestingly, when the tables are turned, 52% of respondents said they feel humiliated when coughing in a quiet setting.

So why do people continue to show up to work while sick?

Mental health experts suggest that days spent out of work often leave American workers feeling like they’re falling behind on their housework and bills, causing still more anxiety and leading many people to try to avoid coughs and colds at all costs.

Upper respiratory infections are so unwelcome for Americans, that many would give up their vices if it mean they could go cough- and cold-free. According to the survey, 37% of respondents would sacrifice their vacation time for a year to stay healthy, while 36% would stop using social media. A third would cut their favorite food from their diet, and 31% would stop watching their favorite television show. Another 31% would give up the luxury of sleeping in on the weekends.

Of course, one way to cut down on the chances of catching a cold: Don’t go to work if you’re sick and keep your office as germ-free as possible!

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Ben Renner

Writer, editor, curator, and social media manager based in Denver, Colorado. View my writing at

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