Reduce down time from sickness

How much time do you lose from sickness? According to OCED figures (2005), workers in Greece lose just one day a year (on average) from sickness, while USA workers lose 9 days a year, and workers in Sweden take a huge 25 days a year for sickness. (What is going on in Sweden?). This article looks at ways to reduce down-time from sickness. Reduce down time from sickness Who claims most sick days? Research shows that as a general rule:
  • The higher the education the lower the sickness rate;
  • Women tend to take more sick days than men (and also live longer);
  • Children normally have more sick days than adults;
  • Amongst adults, the older you get the more sick days you take;
  • Those in the public sector take more sick days than those in the private sector;
  • Single parents take off more time for sickness than those married or without children;
So how do you reduce your down-time from sickness? Common ways include:

1. Regular hand washing

Sickness often begins with the transfer of germs from dirty hands to the mouth, eyes, nose, or food. Perhaps the easiest way to reduce your sickness is as simple as regularly washing your hands. If soap and water are not available, a hand cleaning gel or wet-wipe can be used.

2. Healthy eating

A well balanced diet including vegetables and fruit can boost and maintain our immune system as well as reduce sickness. Mailer writes that “vegetables have a well-deserved reputation for helping our bodies stay healthy and also have been linked [by research] with decreasing the risk of many serious diseases”.

3. Water and not alcohol

Drinking plenty of water is helpful for flushing out harmful toxins from the body. Alternatively, a study in Sweden has found that there is a “positive relationship between alcohol consumption and sickness absence,” especially amongst low-educated males. (Johansson, Bockerman and Uutela). In other words, be careful with your alcohol.

4. Moderate exercise

Individuals who exercise moderately tend to have less down-time from sickness than those who don’t exercise, or who exercise excessively. (Note - Excess exercise can actually reduce the immune system for a short period of time.

5. Stress management

When stress becomes too much we can start to become ill. Therefore, stress management is an important way of reducing downtime.

6. Encourage culture of “sick people stay home until they are well”

An article by Smith suggests that around 70% of the work time lost from illnesses “can be traced to workers who showed up feeling punk, largely because of respiratory and gastrointestinal bugs” (Smith). When it comes to work and sickness, many believe that ‘presenteeism’ is a big an issue as ‘absenteeism’. Why? Sick people come to work and spread their germs to other people etc. How many times does a sick person come to work and before you know two or three other people around them are also sick. I see it every year. Sick people who come to work tend to:
  1. multiply their misery through spreading their illness;
  2. not perform at their best;
  3. irritate colleges, customers and fellow commuters;
  4. take longer to fully recover from their illness.
Final two points on sick people at work. Firstly, you can’t rightly complain about other people coming to work sick if you do the same. Secondly, employers who do not offer paid sick leave put a sick staff in a difficult position, and inadvertently encourage sick staff to come to work.

7. Quality sleep

Quality sleep help protect your immune system. A number of studies have indicated that the amount of quality sleep you get impacts the odds of you catching a cold.

8. Avoid excess medication

Excess use of antibiotic medication can weaken your immune system and reduce the effectiveness of future antibiotic medication. On a similar note - a good question to ask – is the flu vaccine a waste of time, or an effective way to reduce downtime? (I hope to cover this in a future article). Do you have an opinion on this?

9. Office plants

Indoor plants create cleaner air and help produce a healthier work environment. This can lead to reduce sick leave. A study at the University of Technology (Sydney) found that “indoor plants reduce VOCs [volatile organic compounds] by up to 100% over 24 hours in a closed environment” (Steffens). Another study by the University of Agriculture in Norway found that indoor plants can “reduce fatigue, coughts, sore throats and other cold-related illnesses by more 30%” (

10. Buy a germ detection device

Actually … they don’t exist yet, but wouldn’t it be great if a device could alert you to sickly areas (or persons) to avoid. Anyway, if you develop it you should become an overnight millionaire.
Related CraveTime articles: Tips to Improve Sleep Time Find Time by Living Longer Why busy people need exercise
Research Johansson E, Bockerman P, and Uutela A, “Alcohol consumption and sickness absence evidence from microdata”, European Journal of Public Helath, Vol 19, No 1, 19 22, Oxford University Press, 25 Nov 2008 Mailer, J, “Vegetables play part in avoiding illness”, The Courier – Mail , Brisbane, Qld, May 24, 2005; pg 16 Raasch, M “How to reduce illness by proper hand washing”, Rae, D., “How to Reduce Sickness Absences in Sweden – Lessons from International Experience”, OECD Economics Dept Working Papers No .442. OECD publishing, 19 Sep 2005, “The Health Benefits of House Plants, including the top nine healthiest plants!”, Accessed on 1 May 2010 - Smith S., “When it’s better to stay home”, Boston Globe, 19 Dec 2005. Steffens, M, “Indoor plants improve office air”, 28 August 2002, ABC Science Online (Accessed May 2010) Whyte G, Budgett R, Jaques R, and Davis P, “Avoid Winter Illness”, Source Unknown. Wu, M, “Avoiding Illness on the Road”, The Wall Street Journal, 1 Feb 2010.


The indoor plants thing reminds me of the time that my husband took the indoor plants from the empty office floors above and below his and put them around his floor. It looked like a forest and he was very happy with the arrangement(and therefore probably less sick) until he got in trouble from management and was asked to put them all back :)
Very funny though :)