The next time you decide to struggle into work with a heavy cold, think again. A study of 10,000 Britons has found that playing the martyr could – quite literally – cost you your life.
A 10-year research project into the health of 10,000 civil servants carried out by scientists from University College London has found that people who keep working despite having a cold are doubling their risk of developing heart disease in later life
Professor Sir Michael Marmot, who led the study, said that between 30 and 40 per cent of those who unwell but took no time off work at all had double the incidence of coronary heart disease over the following years.
"So many people force themselves into work when they are not well and have little knowledge of the consequences. Far from contributing to their companies or spreading a few germs around the office, they could be hastening their own deaths," he said.
The study, which will be to be broadcast on BBC 2's The Money Programme on Wednesday, found that the stress prompted by going to work when ill with something as minor as a cold is enough to accelerate the onset of coronary heart disease regardless of how much someone smokes or drinks
The extraordinary suggestion that "presenteeism" kills is bound to raise major questions for employers and health professionals – and presumably, before long, lawyers.
The Institute of Directors cast doubt on the study and argued that it did not establish a convincing link between stress in the workplace and heart disease.
"Stress in the workplace should surely be seen as a separate issue to "presenteeism". To draw conclusions that the two are related is yet to be established, despite this study," a spokesman said.
But a spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry said: "It is an issue that employers need to take seriously. We will be examining these findings."