Millennials Most Likely Age Group to Go to Work Sick, Study Shows

A study commissioned by staffing agency Accountemps reveals that a vast majority of American workers have come to the workplace with cold and flu symptoms—and millennials are the most likely to not take a sick day.

The study surveyed 2,800 office employees aged 18 or older across 28 U.S. cities. Nine out of 10 reported they came in to their jobs while ill at least once.

Of that 90 percent of respondents who came into work sick, 33 percent said they always show up and never take a sick day. When the demographics are broken down, millennials are significantly more likely to fall in that cohort.

Thirty-nine percent of employees aged 25 to 40 reported coming to work sick every time they felt symptoms. The group least likely to report always showing up sick was Generation X, at 26 percent.

The primary reason given for coming into work sick was that the respondent had too much work to do, followed by not wanting to use up a sick day. Pressure from employers to show up came in third.

Woman sneezing at desk
Illness can spread quickly in confined spaces like offices. Diego Cervo / Getty Images

Employees coming to work while sick can damage both their health and productivity. A 2010 study by the University of California, San Francisco, found that "presenteeism," the practice of workers showing up for their job while sick, injured or otherwise not capable, could be qualified as a public health hazard.

Illness can spread quickly in confined spaces like offices, and a sick employee can quickly deposit infectious material across multiple surfaces. A 2014 study presented at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy had an experiment where "tracer" viruses were placed on just one object in a sample office, such as a doorknob or tabletop.

Within four hours, that virus had spread to as much as 60 percent of the workers in that sample office. And that was from a single infection point—it is more likely that a sick employee will come in contact with dozens or even hundreds of infectible surfaces in the course of an average workday.

The economic costs of presenteeism are also significant. The 2003 American Productivity Audit, which surveyed 28,902 employees on the impact of health care decisions on their work, found that 71 percent of health-related lost productive time was caused by reduced performance at work, with an estimated cost to the economy of $150 billion a year.

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, nearly three in 10 American workers do not have paid sick leave in their jobs.