Top Reason for Going to Work Sick: A Sense of Obligation

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Shelton, Conn. — April 9
What is the No. 1 reason people go to work when they are sick? It's their sense of obligation to co-workers, according to a new poll by LifeCare Inc., provider of comprehensive specialty care services and a longtime leader in the work-life industry.

In the three consecutive years LifeCare has conducted this poll, this is the first time this response topped the list. In the past two polls, “too risky to take time off” was the leading response.

Here are the full results of the poll, conducted throughout the month of March on LifeCare's private Web site among employees of its 1,500 client organizations:

When you go to work sick, what is your main reason?

  • Other people depend on me, and I don't want to let them down. – 29 percent
  • Too risky to take time off (office politics/culture). – 26 percent
  • Too busy to stay home. – 15 percent
  • I save my sick days for child-care/eldercare emergencies. – 12 percent
  • I save my sick days for vacation time. – 8 percent
  • I do not work when I'm sick. – 7 percent
  • Other – 3 percent

In LifeCare's 2007 poll, the top three responses were: too risky to take time off (31 percent); too busy to stay home (23 percent); and I save my sick days for child-care/eldercare emergencies (18 percent). In the 2006 poll, the top three responses were: too risky to take time off (32 percent); other people depend on me, and I don't want to let them down (25 percent); and too busy to stay home (12 percent).

Interestingly, the percentage of respondents who do not go to work when they're sick has always remained at the 6 or 7 percent mark, woefully below the level that employers widely say they desire. “It's well-known that employees who work sick are actually creating a greater risk for their co-workers and a greater risk of lost productivity for their organizations,” said LifeCare CEO Peter G. Burki. “Even so, our workplace cultures don't seem to be getting the message through that taking a little time off when you're ill is not only wiser but also acceptable.”

Burki notes that some organizations are more accepting than others when it comes to sick time, but the tide seems to be turning in the right direction. More employers are taking up the position that sick employees should stay home because of recent reports on the high cost of presenteeism (working but not functioning at full capacity due to illness or other personal distractions). Studies have suggested that presenteeism costs U.S. businesses $150 billion or more annually in lost productivity.

Each month, LifeCare posts a poll on its private Web site, asking individuals to share their thoughts and opinions on the latest issues and work-life trends. Past polls have addressed topics such as stress, health and wellness, aging, flexible work arrangements and barriers to on-the-job productivity. 

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