If you’ve ever gone to work when you weren’t feeling well, you’re not alone. According to a recent NSF International survey, at least one-quarter (26 percent) of American workers admit to going to work when they are sick.

Although there are many reasons that people don’t stay home when they don’t feel well, a majority of Americans indicate the major reason is because of workload. Many have deadlines or are afraid they will have too much work to make up if they take a sick day (42 percent), while nearly as many (37 percent) say that can’t afford to be sick and miss work.

One of the more surprising results of the survey concerns how employees feel about co-workers coming into work sick. While 98 percent of Americans surveyed acknowledge that they do judge fellow co-workers who come in sick, their feelings aren’t generally negative. In fact, two-thirds (67 percent) of those surveyed consider sick co-workers to be hard workers, and only 16 percent feel that their colleagues who come to work sick are selfish or don’t care about the well-being of their co-workers.

Other interesting survey findings about sickness in the workplace include:

  • Expectations from above: One-quarter (25 percent) of American workers claim that they go to work when sick because their boss expects them to come in no matter what.
  • Pushing through the illness: Men (33 percent) are nearly twice as likely as women (17 percent) to always go to work through their illness or when sick.
  • Distrust in the workplace: Thirteen percent of working Americans believe co-workers come to work sick because they don’t trust their colleagues to do the job while they are out.

Most Americans appear to be very transparent and honest about how they feel around sick colleagues. A majority (57 percent) would tell a sick co-worker to go home if they thought they were too sick to be at work. If you are sick, try to stay home and rest at the onset of your symptoms. However, if you must go into work, be conscientious of those around you and follow these tips:

  • Eat healthy and take certified vitamins. Keeping your immune system strong during the winter months is important to help keep colds and the flu at bay. If you do use vitamins, look for those with the NSF certification mark, as these have been tested to confirm that what’s on the label is actually present in the product and that there are no unsafe levels of contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides and herbicides in the product.
  • Disinfect surfaces. NSF International germ studies have found that germs tend to congregate in warm, damp and or porous environments. If you’re at work, disinfect the kitchen sponge before using by rinsing it, then placing it in the microwave for two minutes, and use paper towels to dry your hands instead of a communal towel. Use an anti-bacterial disinfecting solution or wipe on frequently used items like the keyboard, mouse and phone, and do the office a favor and wipe down the communal printer and copier which might have been frequented by a sick colleague.
  • Avoid going into work when you feel the onset of cold symptoms. While the inclination might be to power through an illness and go to work when you’re starting to feel run down, the best thing to do is stay home. Going to work not only puts your co-workers at risk of getting sick, but may further strain your immune system. If you feel you must work while sick, talk to your boss about handling some projects from home or see if one of your co-workers might be able to help out on a project (you can return the favor for them in the future should they become sick).
  • Don’t eat in or use common areas like break rooms and cafeterias. Try not to sit or stand near your healthy co-workers when you’re sick. If you must be in close proximity, be diligent about covering your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, and avoid shaking hands, sharing a pen or touching common surfaces like copier control keys as much as possible.

The best thing you can do to protect yourself is take defensive measures during the wintertime. Whether you are sick or currently healthy, prevent the spread of germs and bacteria by washing your hands regularly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. While hand sanitizers are a good tool when you don’t have access to running water, they are not a replacement for proper handwashing.