dear data dog: How does the flu affect productivity?

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According to The National Center for Health Statistics, 108 million cases of the flu are reported each year ( 80/nchswww/fastats/flu.htm). This accounted for 192 million days spent in bed and 75 million work days spent feverishly not working. The common cold, by contrast, is less common, racking up 61 million cases every year and just 58 million annual bed days.

Women - who catch the flu more often than men (43.4 cases per 100 women annually versus 39 per 100 men) - also lose more working days to the flu. The NCHS's Current Estimates from the National Health Interview Survey, 1995 (at pubd/series/sr10/pre-190/pre-190.htm) found that among 18-to-44-year-olds, there were 77.6 work days lost per 100 employed women per year, in contrast to 56.8 work days lost for every 100 employed men. Those numbers could be even higher except that a lot of people don't stay in bed when they should. A 1997 survey for the Wellness Councils of America (www/tgfox. com/work/sneeze.htm) found that 84 percent of respondents admitted to working with a cold or flu - despite the fact that 67 percent think sick coworkers should stay away from work. Fifty-one percent of those polled believe their boss wants them at work even when they're ill (which might indicate that a lot of bosses never get within sneezing distance of their emp! loyees).

The Wellness Councils' survey also reported that some sort of respiratory illness was the major reason people miss work. But CCH Inc.'s more recent 1998 Unscheduled Absence Survey (detailed at 098absenteeism.asp) discovered that, among small businesses at least, "family issues" is now the leading reason people use to skip work, accounting for 21 percent of reported absences. "Personal illness," "stress," and "personal needs" each make up 20 percent, and "entitlement mentality" is responsible for 19 percent. (It's easy to imagine someone calling in sick or stressed out or just asking for some personal time - but you have to admire somebody who calls in absent just because he's entitled to.) The CCH study took notice of the fact that the percentage of absences attributed to "stress" grew from 6 percent in 1994 to 21 percent just four years later. For businesses of all sizes, CCH reports, stress now accounts for 16 percent of all unscheduled ab! sences.

So who's getting so stressed out? Again, women. An August 1999 Roper Starch Worldwide report found that women are more likely than men to be stressed every day (www.roper. According to their Global Consumers 2000 study, 21 percent of women feel "super-stressed," as compared with 15 percent of men; 24 percent of full-time working mothers with children under the age of 13 feel stressed almost every day; and 23 percent of all full-time working mothers are sweating bullets. More working women across the board - professional/executive, white-collar, and blue-collar - feelstressed than men (23 percent to 19 percent, 21 percent to 16 percent, and 24 percent to 17 percent, respectively). These results echo those of the Department of Labor's 1994 survey, Working Women Count (the summary can be found at www. working.htm). Identified by almost 60 percent of those polled, stress is the working woman's biggest heada! che.

All this agitation may have something to do with working hours. In September, the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted a rise in the number of hours that women with children work ( opub/ted/1999/Sept/wk4/art03.htm). Whereas the average weekly hours at work for men with kids declined slightly between 1969 and 1998, there was an increase for women during the same period - especially for women with kids between the ages of 6 and 17, whose average work week rose by 2.5 hours. It's no wonder that the BLS also reports a higher job absence rate for women than for men. In 1998, about 5.1 percent of working women were absent during an average week, while just 2.7 percent of men failed to show up at some point.

Attention, greeting-card writers! How about this line for a get-well note: "Sorry to hear you're stressed about giving your kid the flu. Get well soon, because there's a board meeting tomorrow."

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