09/26/2011 05:24 EDT | Updated 11/14/2011 05:12 EST

Sick? Stay Home! Ill Workers Cost Billions in Productivity


You wake with a case of the sniffles, achey bones and a scratchy throat on those crucial few days before a big project at work is due. What do you do? If you're anything like 83 per cent of American workers, you head to the office and suffer through it. But is it worth it?

Researchers from Queen's University have asked themselves this exact question and the answer is a resoundingn "No."

"It is a minor [illness] that can have some major consequences for the workplace," says lead researcher Dr. Richard Birtwhistle, director of the Centre for Studies in Primary Care at Queen's University in Kingston, ON. "Everybody gets colds. "We think it's just something that happens and get on with it without necessarily thinking about all the other impacts it can have because it's really common."

So how major are these consequences? According to the report, sick workers have cost the American economy $25 billion in lost productivity. The direct cost of colds and flu -- which takes into account not just lost productivity, but things like medical expenses -- is estimated at $40 billion. What's more, the report -- the first of its kind in Canada -- claims employees who work when they're sick cost their company twice as much as they would have if they had stayed home. Birtwhistle and his team made these conclusions after analyzing over 80 published studies and clinical trials.

This is rather alarming -- especially when you consider that, in any given month, a third of Canadians suffer from an illness of some sort, be it a sore throat, cold or flu. What's more, "Most workers feel an obligation to go to work even if they're sick," adds Birtwhistle. "They don't want to seem like they're letting down the workplace or their colleagues." And yet, another study has found that at least half of us have pretended we're sick just to get a day off.

Granted, it's hard to justify taking an entire day out of your busy schedule just because you have runny nose. If you're wondering whether you should stay home or suck it up, ask yourself these questions:

-- How are your energy levels? If you're totally drained, you could probably benefit from a day in bed more than your work will benefit from you yawning at your desk.

-- Is there a chance you might be contagious? If so, for the sake of everyone around you, stay home.

-- Are you loading up on over-the-counter cold meds just to function? They could make your head fairly fuzzy.