The holidays can be a grueling time for office workers, who must survive the ennui-filled purgatory between Thanksgiving and Christmas, recover from the boozy and body-wrecking holiday party circuit and fight off germs from the 80 percent of colleagues who come in to work despite being sick.

Out of that group who hit the cubicle while still battling sniffles and coughs, more than a quarter say they do it to avoid using a sick day. And among the workers who stay home to get over the worst of their symptoms, more than two-thirds return to the office while they're still contagious, according to a recent survey from office supply chain Staples.

Each year, the flu results in 70 million missed workdays and $10 billion in lost office productivity. The NCAA college basketball tournament, by comparison, causes employers to pay out $1 billion in wages to distracted workers.

Blame the weakened immune systems on filthy office behavior. Half of employees don't clean their work spaces once a week or more, according to the Staples report. Workers would do well to avoid, or give a vigorous scrubbing to, especially dirty areas such as computer keyboards and the break-room sink and microwave.

Then there's the matter of holiday parties, whether hosted by work or not. Nearly two-thirds of Americans have either called in sick or know someone who has ditched work to tend to a hangover after a seasonal fete, according to a report by Caron Treatment Centers.

Such celebrations can erode productivity, according to the nonprofit addiction treatment establishment. In the aftermath of a holiday party, many employees arrive late and leave early from work, are distracted in the office, take longer lunch breaks or are sick at their desks.

"There is already a significant amount of stress and competition in the workplace," Dr. Harris Stratyner, Caron's vice president, said in a statement. "If employees are unable to perform because of drinking too much the night before, their job performance may be seriously impacted."

It's a risk employers seem willing to take this year.

More than 83 percent are planning year-end parties, up from 68 percent last year and nearing the pre-recession standard of 90 percent, according to a report from consultant firm Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc.

Nearly half plan to serve alcohol, according to the study.


©2012 Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at

Distributed by MCT Information Services