The Common Cold and Productivity Loss

Sept. 20, 2002
Each cold experienced by an employee causes an average of 8.7 lost work hours, most of which is time the employee is spending at work, miserable and unproductive. A new study examined productivity losses attributed to the common cold and turned up some shocking statistics.

Health-related productivity assessments typically focus on chronic conditions. However, acute conditions, particularly colds, have the potential to cause substantial health-related productivity losses because of their high prevalence in working-age groups.

A new study published in the September issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that not only were workers unproductive because they were suffering from colds, but they were less productive when they had to attend to children who were suffering from colds.

Nearly one-fifth of working adults will experience a cold each year. The 20 million annual missed workdays estimated from the survey data might be just the tip of the iceberg, say researchers, because the estimates include only colds that resulted in doctors visits or restricted activity days. There may be as many as 70 million lost workdays due to colds, they claim, when actual missed work time is combined with lost productivity. In addition, nearly twice that many lost workdays are incurred by employees who are caregivers for children suffering from colds.

The researchers concluded that the economic cost of lost productivity due to the common cold approaches $25 billion, of which $16.6 billion is attributed to on-the-job productivity loss, $8 billion is attributed to absenteeism, and $230 million is attributed to caregiver absenteeism.

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