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Cold comfort for sick employees

By Nick Easen for CNN

Sickness in the workforce can be a significant cost to business.
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(CNN) -- Workers who go to the office when they are sick may think it is the right thing to do, but it could be a significant cost to employers.

A "martyr culture" -- where staff who are sick yet feel compelled to go to work -- can increase the amount of germs in the office.

And when sickness spreads to co-workers this can affect the productivity of the whole workforce.

A recent online CNN poll found that, out of 268 voters, 80 percent feel obliged to go to work even when they are ill. (View QuickVote).

However, few firms appear to be in favor of employees keeping their germs at home.

A new survey of 110 human resources managers found that 88 percent believe that even a heavy cold is not a good enough reason to be off sick -- contrary to the advice of doctors.

For a rapid recovery, the medical profession advises that people suffering from a bad cold should stay in bed, not go to work.

This view also has the backing of the British Trade Union Congress (TUC) which has branded sick employees in the workplace as "mucus troopers."

"If employees are bringing their germs to the office, they are inevitably risking their colleagues becoming ill," says Richard Smith of Croner business consulting, who conducted the survey.

"This has greater consequences for productivity than if the employee had taken a day or two off to recover".

Fear of taking sick leave, even when employees are actually unwell, could also be fueling stress and anxiety in the workplace.

"Taking time off for having a cold can be viewed as a weakness," explains Smith.

However, there is a fine line between when people are sick of work, rather than actually being simply too sick to be in the office.

"Staff illness is a difficult area for employers to manage, as there will always be some employees who take advantage of the system," says Smith.

Croner advises monitoring employee sickness against an average office benchmark. This could help companies identify potential offenders.

And businesses should consider creating contracts of employment that give clear guidelines on sickness.

Making staff feel comfortable about taking time off, if they are genuinely ill, may also have a positive effect on the health and well being of workers, as well as boost productivity, believes Smith.

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