The Effects of a Cough or Cold on Your Productivity

14 Aug 2018

Anyone who’s ever soldiered through a miserable cold knows that a stuffy nose, sore throat and itchy palate doesn’t make you feel motivated and productive. So it’s no surprise that the common cold is among the biggest productivity killers — and the most common cause for missed school or work in the United States. Whether you call in sick or head to work anyway, you’re likely to notice a decrease in your productivity — but that doesn’t mean your cold has to make you miserable.

The “common cold” is called common for a reason; a 2012 survey investigating the Attitudes of Consumers Toward Health, cOugh, and cOld (ACHOO) reported that nearly 85 percent of respondents caught a cold in the last year and around 20 percent reported having three or more colds.

The common cold can be surprisingly persistent, leading to lengthy periods in which you may not perform at your best. Only 30 percent of the survey respondents reported that their cold cleared up within one to three days. That means 70 percent of the respondents who had a cold in the last year grappled with it for the better part of a week — and nearly one-third reported that their cold lasted for a week or more.

Even though a cough or cold might not seem serious, it’s likely to impact your day-to-day life. Only four percent of survey respondents said that their cold had “no effect” on their daily life. Just over half said it had a moderate effect on their day-to-day activities, and 10 percent said it impacted their daily life a lot.

Not surprisingly, a cold can affect how you perform at work. On average, survey respondents said they are 26 percent less productive than when they don’t have a cold — even though more than half still show up for work.

Another common reason for lost productivity? Having to miss work. Nearly half of the people surveyed said they had to call in sick for at least one day due to a cold — and around 10 percent reported missing three days or more. That not only means lost productivity during the days you miss, but also from the catch-up in your first days back.

Staying at home may have cascading effects that lower your productivity, too. Since colds are often highly contagious, you risk passing the virus to other housemates, which may mean missing even more work to care for a sick loved one.

Because a cold can be caused by more than 200 viruses, the best way to deal with one is to use a cough and cold medicine to treat the symptoms. And while 36 percent of the people surveyed say they take cold medicine at the first sign of illness, most people delay starting treatment — and eight percent forego medication entirely.

The truth is, there’s no reason to suffer with a cough or cold. Managing the symptoms may help mitigate some of the productivity loss at work. And it may also help you feel more energized at home, so you can take steps — like disinfecting doorknobs and furniture — to prevent passing the cold virus on to your loved ones

  1. Current Medical Research & Opinion: Consumer Attitudes on Cough and Cold: US (ACHOO) Survey Results  

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