Unhealthy culture: Australians would show up at work with cold and flu symptoms, survey reveals

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Despite the coronavirus risk and numerous public health warnings, an alarming number of Australian workers have indicated they’d continue to show up at work if feeling unwell.

When asked to reveal why they would present to work with headaches, a stuffy or runny nose, or a sore or tingly throat, 58 percent say the symptoms were not serious enough to justify time off work. Forty-two percent say it’s because they have too much work to do with no replacement available, 29 percent believe their employer won’t regard their symptoms as serious enough, while 24 percent don’t want to use up their sick leave or say they will have pressure from their employer to present to work.

The study of 1000 Australian employees, commissioned by Cleancorp in June, found 54 percent of Australians would present to work with a headache. Furthermore:

  • 38 percent would work with a stuffy nose, runny nose, sore throat, tingly throat or fatigue
  • 32 percent would present to work with a cough
  • 22 percent would work with a stomach ache, and
  • 20 percent would go in with muscle or body aches and chills.

For those aged under 30, the percentages were higher. The results reveal cultural and systemic issues like presenteeism, and shine light on the financial uncertainty and job insecurity experienced by many in the population – who’d risk their own health and that of others for fear of mounting unpaid bills or falling out of favour with management.

Casual and contract workers are at particular risk. These workers receive no sick leave payments and 21 percent indicate they’d present to work with symptoms because they could not afford not to get paid. In Australia, there are 2.6 million casual workers. They are predominantly employed in retail, social assistance services, construction, health, education and road transport – sectors in which working from home options are rare and face-to-face interaction is often necessary.

“Now that we are facing the genuine threat of a virus ‘double whammy’ – COVID-19 and the flu – it is more important than ever not to go to work when feeling unwell,” says Cleancorp co-founder and director Lisa Macqueen. “Our findings reveal that many employees come to work when sick because of feelings of guilt or fear of being judged by their bosses.

“However, now that we’re in a pandemic, going to work sick because you feel obliged is no longer acceptable. As a significant proportion of employees re-enter their workplaces – either partially or fully – organisations must do everything they can to minimise the risks of viruses spreading among their employees, customers and visitors.”

Speaking of her own work, Macqeen adds that it’s encouraging to see many of her clients asking for heavy-duty and antiviral workplace cleans, but that “we need to see a strong shift towards a ‘stay at home if you’re unwell’ mentality to contain the coronavirus successfully”.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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