Going To Work Sick Isn't Helping Your Career

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Going to work when you're sick can be hazardous to your career health.

Seven out of every 10 U.S. workers say they show up at the office or worksite under the weather, according to OfficeTeam. The Menlo Park, Calif., staffing services firm surveyed 400 U.S. workers and 300 senior managers and found 43% of employees show up sick at work "very frequently" and 27% say they walk in ill "somewhat frequently."

Only 13% of workers say they "never" show up for work feeling sick.

Employees may feel like they're heroes by showing up sick, but management may not even realize they're doing it. According to OfficeTeam, only 12% of managers were aware of the sacrifice.

"Many professionals fear falling behind or feel that they can't afford to take a sick day, so they head into work when they are under the weather," says Robert Hosking, an executive director of OfficeTeam.

But that's actually a disservice to the employee, and to other workers.

A 2009 Netherlands study took a deeper look into the issue, a syndrome called "presenteeism," researchers at Utrecht University say.

"From the time that presenteeism was first identified, scientists viewed it as negative organizational behavior," says the study, Present But Sick: A Three-Wave Study on Job Demands, Presenteeism and Burnout. "Presenteeism is considered as risk behavior for employees themselves, by repeatedly postponing sickness leave that may effectively resolve minor illnesses as more serious illnesses may develop."

"Presenteeism may have negative consequences for organizations in two ways," the study says. "First, individual performance may suffer since sick employees may only be able to produce the same output as healthy colleagues by investing more time or effort. Second, collective performance may suffer because workers become involved in helping sick colleagues, or because sick employees may pass on infectious illnesses to their colleagues and clients."

It's up to management to take care of business when it comes to illness and the workplace.

"Managers should encourage their teams to stay home when they are sick," Hosking says. "Let staff know that there's nothing heroic about spreading colds and flus."

If you're an employee fighting a significant cold or a flu, the best advice is to stay home and recharge your batteries before showing up at the workplace. With technology making the workplace telecommute friendly, workers can take the odd phone call or sit in on a teleconference if it's absolutely necessary.

Management should make it clear -- a formal policy on not showing up ill at the workplace is best  that the office is no place to be spreading illness. They should also lead by example and not show up for work if sick. If an employee sees his or her manager staying home with the flu, that employee is less likely to show up sick at work, OfficeTeam says.

Employees and management should also band together and keep common areas clean and free of germs.

If you're debating showing up at work ill or not, opt to stay home and contact a team member who can take over your workload for the day. Then return the favor when your co-worker is sick.

You co-workers will thank you, and it might even help your career.

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