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Cleaning for Health: Limiting Illness in the Age of Presenteeism

By Matthew Halbreich

November 4, 2019


In recent years, the flu has broken records in the U.S. for all the wrong reasons. The 2018-2019 flu season was the longest in a decade according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), due to a second wave that began in February. Meanwhile, the 2017-2018 flu season was the deadliest in four decades, with an estimated 80,000 deaths, a sharp increase from the 12,000 deaths reported during the 2011-2012 season.


Although getting a flu shot better protects individuals from contracting the flu, the vaccine is not always well matched against that year’s strains. In an effort to curb illness from spreading, facility managers must increase their commitment to cleanliness during flu season.


Presenteeism Impacts Productivity and the Bottom Line

Despite workers being urged to stay home while they are sick, not everyone is provided with paid sick leave. In 2018, 29% of private-sector workers did not have access to paid sick days. When employees are able to stay home while sick, they can recover more quickly, prevent the spread of germs in workplaces and public spaces, and reduce cases of presenteeism, which is defined as working while sick.



Although sick leave is an important benefit, even employees who have it do not always take advantage. According to a survey of more than 1,000 full-time workers, 38% are willing to show up to work while contagious, even though they know they may infect others.


This presenteeism trend results in reduced productivity and costs businesses 10 times more than absenteeism. Research from Global Corporate Challenge found that while employees were absent from work an average of four days per year, they admitted to being unproductive on the job for 57.5 days each, or nearly three months. Additionally, lost productivity due to health-related conditions costs U.S. businesses more than $225 billion, making employee wellness critical in relation to the bottom line.


Not only does presenteeism impact productivity, it can even lead to lapses in safety and wellness. For instance, a worker may be responsible for driving a forklift, or prepping food that is served to customers. When these individuals work while sick, it can result in accidents, injuries and additional illness, such as a foodborne outbreak.


Maintaining Cleanliness During Flu Season

It’s not difficult for viruses to spread from person to person during flu season. Imagine someone who is ill with influenza; if they cough and then touch a doorknob, the virus can live on this hard surface for 24 hours. It’s likely that someone else’s hands will come into contact with the doorknob and they may infect themselves with the virus. Those with the flu may be able to infect others one day before their symptoms appear and several days after they are ill. Thus, this newly infected person may further spread the virus to other surfaces and people in an ordinary activity like taking public transportation to work.


It can feel like a never-ending chain of illness, but thankfully maintaining cleanliness and hygiene can help curb the spread of the flu. Consider the following flu season best practices:

  • Select a fast-acting disinfectant to kill germs. An effective disinfectant with a short contact time, like one minute, allows employees to clean quickly without compromising results. Look for a broad-spectrum, multi-surface product that uses hydrogen peroxide (AHP®) technology to kill a range of bacteria, viruses and fungi. Consider stocking both a ready-to-use spray and a wipe, and increase ordering during the winter so stock is always available.



  • Clean more frequently and thoroughly. Because germs can spread so quickly, it’s important to clean more regularly during flu season. High-touch surfaces need extra attention, so address items like shared phones and tablets, doorknobs, light switches, shopping carts, counters and desks, and computer keyboards and mice. Don’t forget the screens and buttons on self-checkout stations at grocery stores, ordering kiosks at restaurants and even ATMs. Disinfect numerous times per day, as these surfaces are touched by many people.
  • Restock hand hygiene essentials. Washing hands with soap helps remove germs and sanitizer can kill influenza viruses. When cleaning restrooms, kitchens and other areas where dispensers are installed, make sure product is stocked. Consider installing dispensers that can seamlessly switch from touchless to manual mode in case batteries ever run out.


A Cleaner Facility

Cleaning during illness-prone months is a must to keep students, office workers, retail employees, customers, long-term care facility residents and others as healthy as possible. Since many people don’t have access to paid sick leave, and some even admit to working while sick, increasing the frequency of cleaning and using effective products is essential. Additionally, teaching employees to view cleaning as a way to keep people healthy can further encourage them to take pride in their cleaning tasks.


Matthew Halbreich serves as the North American Infection Prevention Portfolio Manager for Diversey, a leader in smart, sustainable solutions for cleaning and hygiene, including its Oxivir® line of ready-to-use disinfectant sprays and wipes. To learn more about cleaning solutions from Diversey, visit