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Workplace Wellness

Allergies in the Office.

Attacking Absenteeism?
Start by Addressing Allergies in the Office.

Allergies are the Second Most Common Reason People Miss Work

Twenty to 50 million Americans suffer from some form of allergies, and the symptoms of allergies are the number-two reason they call in sick.

A 2006 study posted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that over half of the 8,267 U.S. employees surveyed by the study reported experiencing allergic rhinitis symptoms, with symptoms lasting an average of 52.5 days per year. They were absent 3.6 days each year because of the condition, and were unproductive 2.3 hours per workday while experiencing symptoms. Average losses per employee per year, considering absenteeism and presenteeism (reporting to work while ill and less productive) amounted to $593—the most costly of all medical conditions evaluated by the study.

Considering the cost of allergies, employers would be wise to mitigate the environmental factors that trigger allergic reactions and make people feel sick.

An allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to food, dust, pollen or other substances, and there are several environmental factors that can trigger allergies in the workplace. Some of the most common include dust mites, pollens and molds. Other things like aerosols, chemical fumes, cigarette smoke, dust, fresh paint, perfumes and pet dander can trigger reactions.

Allergy symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes, can be exacerbated by stress in the workplace and long hours on the job. Some medications used to treat symptoms can contribute to absenteeism and lost productivity as well, particularly if they cause drowsiness for the allergy sufferer.

To help reduce allergy triggers in your office:

  • ensure proper ventilation, and change air system filters regularly;
  • maintain an indoor humidity level of 50 percent or less;  
  • make sure the work area is dusted regularly;
  • clean carpets and replace them as needed, or consider removing carpets from the office; and,
  • repair any water damage that is evident.

While these measures will help curb the incidence of allergic reactions in your office, some employees will still suffer from the symptoms of allergies due to factors beyond your control. Make sure their allergies have been accurately diagnosed so additional measures may be taken, if possible, to reduce other allergy triggers that may be present in the workplace.

You can also prepare the office to help employees cope with allergies on the job, and help reduce the spread of germs:

  • install touchless fixtures–such as enMotion® towel and soap dispensers–in restrooms and breakrooms;
  • keep soap, sanitizer, facial tissue and paper towel products fully stocked; and,
  • educate employees on the importance of washing their hands to help reduce the spread of germs.

For a primer on proper handwashing technique, download this infographic and share it with your team: Handwashing 101.