man in miseryThere are many ways to curb flue epidemics in the office. Providing perks for flu shots, big fruit bowls of oranges in the break room, hand sanitizers and taking extra janitorial precautions help.

Probably the most effective method is encouraging employees to stay home when they are sick. If they are working on team projects, phone conferences and other remote employee communication systems serve to console the highly responsible employee who doesn’t want to let the team down.

So why are sick employees so reluctant to stay home?

For the first time in five years, the number of employees that said they go to work with flu has dropped to 60 percent, after four straight years of increases, according to the fifth annual Flu Season Survey from Staples, a leading provider of supplies that help keep offices healthy.

Recent outbreaks such as Enterovirus in the U.S. underscore the importance of fostering a culture of workplace wellness.

According to study, while this is a drop from last year, many employees still feel they can’t take a sick day. Despite 88 percent of managers encouraging sick employees to stay at home, 40 percent feel there is too much going on at work to stay away, and 31 percent show up sick because they think their boss appreciates it. There are a number of factors that have contributed to the drop in employees going to work sick:

Sick employees coming into work considered worse for office productivity than a security breach – Both employees and employers recognize the detrimental impact that coming to work sick has on workplace productivity. In fact, more than one-quarter of employees (27 percent) think that coming to work sick is worse for office productivity than a security breach, natural disaster or product/service issue.

Presenteeism recognized as a bigger problem than absenteeismMore respondents think that presenteeism, people going into the office when sick but not fully functioning, is a bigger problem than people being absent from work due to illness. This isn’t surprising considering that more than a third of respondents (36 percent) say that their personal productivity is less than 50 percent of their usual level when they show up with the flu.

Employees are taking charge of their own health and wellness –The survey shows that even as the availability of flu vaccinations in the workplace is on the rise, employees are taking more responsibility for their personal health during flu season. In fact, 70 percent of respondents have some involvement in cleaning their work spaces. This provides employers with the opportunity to promote workplace wellness in simple, inexpensive ways, such as providing cleaning supplies so employees can keep their personal workspace clean and sanitized. This is especially for job sharing work stations and those stations set up to meet customers.

Recent virus outbreaks are affecting behavior –Recent virus outbreaks are affecting behavior, as the majority of employees (53 percent) said they will take extra precautions to protect themselves against the flu and other illness this winter. Recent outbreaks of Ebola virus spreading among the health care providers in Texas is not something to ignore.

Employees who have been fired for taking sick days with previous employers are the hardest to convince, while employees with small children in preschool are especially vulnerable. Single parents who stay home to take care of sick children are often scrutinized or considered irresponsible and are the first to cut during a downsize.

What are your policies? These are important issues for employers to consider.