Not everyone can or wants to work from home these days, but almost one-third (30%) of people think colleagues with cold symptoms should recover at home, if possible, rather than soldiering on in the office. Additionally, one in ten (10%) people dislike colleagues coughing or sneezing at work, new research reveals.
Cold and flu relief medicine makers Benylin surveyed 2,000 UK residents to diagnose how Brits felt about cold and flu symptoms and what they believe is the most appropriate etiquette to handle cold and flu.
Coughing around colleagues can often leave people feeling deflated, as if an irritated throat or blocked nose wasn’t uncomfortable enough, dealing with discomfort and ‘phlegmbarassment’ in public seems to be a common worry.
From coughs and colds to sickness, sniffles, nausea and flu, it’s estimated that around 185.6 million working days were lost to “minor” illnesses in 2022 and over the last 30 days the search term ‘stay home sick’ was up 72%.
Just over one in five said they start to worry when they begin displaying symptoms and 28% feel embarrassed about displaying symptoms in public. It’s not just embarrassment though, as 42% said it makes them feel uncomfortable, and we can’t say we blame them, with more than half (53%) admitting they would physically move away from someone displaying symptoms.
More than 84% of respondents thought education on coughing and sneezing etiquette was essential and more than half of respondents think that people coughing or sneezing in public should wear a facemask or face covering. This helps if you’re going out in public, though can be difficult to sit in for a full day of meetings at the office. So, with cold and flu season well underway, Benylin has put together the whys and what-to-dos of winter weather wellness.
What makes cold and flu viruses spread so much at work?
Learning why cold and flu viruses spread during winter can be a good way to protect yourself. Here are some of the main reasons why minor illnesses are so common during winter:
Indoor Crowding: In cold weather, it’s common to be huddled up close indoors, especially in the workplace. But the downside is this facilitates the spread of viruses as they can easily pass from person to person through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. From buses to waiting rooms, and even the canteen at lunchtime, every day in winter sees you up close and personal with sneezing commuters and coughing colleagues.
Dry Air: Cold air is often dry and these low humidity levels can dry out the mucous membranes in the respiratory tract, making you more susceptible to viral infections. Cold air can also result in an inflamed and irritated throat, which could increase your urge to cough.
Weakened Immune Response: Exposure to cold temperatures on your commute or in the office may suppress the immune system's response to viruses, which may make you more susceptible to infections. In addition, reduced sun exposure means less vitamin D, which is essential to maintaining a strong immune system.
Virus Stability: Cold and flu viruses can linger in the air and on surfaces for longer in colder, drier conditions, which increases the chances of transmission. With more people indoors, this means more infected surfaces and a generally higher concentration of viruses.
Cold and flu symptoms are under more scrutiny after the coronavirus pandemic, and just under a third of people are likely to assume any symptoms are Covid related. Face coverings can be a great way to prevent the spread of viruses in public, even in enclosed spaces, but there are many other habits to help stay healthy this cold and flu season.
Health habits for workplace winter wellness
Avoid the flu season blues and learn how to stay well this winter. Here are four ways to stay healthy in the new year, so you’re not receiving side-eyes for sniffling across desks:
Frequent Handwashing: It’s important to wash your hands. Often, we only wash them after going to the loo. But germs can be transferred from surfaces, sneezes, and even handshakes. To properly wash your hands, lather them with soap and water for about 20 seconds, especially after coughing, sneezing, or touching surfaces in public places. If soap and water are unavailable or washing isn’t practical, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser or sanitising wipes.
Practice Respiratory Hygiene: If you feel a sneeze or cough coming, cover your mouth with a tissue or your elbow, rather than your hand. Then, dispose of any tissues and wash or sanitise your hands. This practice can reduce the spread of respiratory droplets containing viruses that can cause colds and flu. Whether you’re sneezing, are out in public, or are near sniffly colleagues you should avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth, to minimize the risk of transferring viruses. Wearing a mask is also a great way to stop the spread.
Optimise Indoor Humidity Levels
Stay Hydrated: Hydration isn’t just for the summer months. Cold air can be dehydrating and may also irritate your throat. Generally, people tend to drink less water when it's cold, which can exaggerate symptoms. Stay hydrated by swapping those office coffees for drinking water or herbal teas.