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The Boston Globe

Business

Staples survey: More workers refuse to take days off when they get the flu

You might think that with the economy improving and with so much technology available for telecommuting, that more workers would stay home more when they get sick, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, according to a new survey from Staples Inc., the Framingham-based office supply giant.

Nearly 80 percent of the survey’s respondents said they come to work even when sick, an increase of 20 percent from a year ago. (This is the third year that Staples has conducted its “Flu Season Survey.”)

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When the economy is in recession, as it was a few years ago, many people go to work sick, presumably out of job insecurity. Perhaps understandably, these folks are more concerned about hanging onto their jobs than about exposing their coworkers to flu germs. It would seem, then, that now that the economy is a bit better, workers would be more inclined to use their sick days. But the new Staples survey suggests otherwise.

When Staples asked survey respondents about why they were so intent to going to the office when sick, one common response was employees citing their concern about completing work. And that “you gotta play hurt” mentality has consequences.

“In a typical year, the flu virus is responsible for approximately 70 million missed workdays and an estimated $10 billion in lost office productivity,” the Staples press release pointed out.

Staples said it conducted an online survey of more than 150 office workers and 100 supervisors at organizations of all sizes across the US. The survey, conducted in September, asked questions about hygiene in the workplace and about knowledge of the flu.

One way to slow the spread of the flu virus is to keep the workplace as clean as possible. Staples, of course, is well known as a retailer of office supplies, but it also offers an array of cleaning products, including a number of them under its “Sustainable Earth by Staples” brand.

The subliminal message of the Staples press release: Stocking up on such products is a wise investment as it reduces the amount of productivity lost to the flu.

“At Staples, we know that companies are already doing more with fewer resources, and flu season has the potential to impact productivity,” Lisa Hamblet, vice president for facility solutions at Staples Advantage, the business-to-business division of Staples, said in a statement. “Prevention is key, and using the right supplies is critical. Products such as hands-free soap, paper towel dispensers, disinfectants and sanitizers, along with staff awareness, can help keep an office healthy.”

Chris Reidy can be reached at reidy@globe.com.
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