Nearly eight million workers would enter the office with COVID-19 symptoms

  • 7.7 million workers would go to the office with a high temperature and a cough, key COVID-19 symptoms
  • 2.9 million admit they will continue to travel to the office even if feeling ill
  • Is the pandemic killing presenteeism? 93 per cent of HR managers say they would encourage ill staff to stay home

New research1 from Direct Line Life Insurance reveals that 7.7 million workers (27 per cent) would continue to travel into the office even if they have either a high temperature or a cough - two of the major symptoms of Coronavirus.

Aside from Coronavirus symptoms, 2.9 million workers (10 per cent) admit they would continue to travel into the office if they felt unwell in general. As we head into cold and flu season, the common symptoms workers feel aren’t deserving of working from home or a sick day are a runny nose (80 per cent), a headache (76 per cent), achy limbs (75 per cent) and a sore throat (66 per cent). Almost half of workers (47 per cent) said that they would still travel into work even if they were suffering from sickness or diarrhoea.

Table one: Major symptoms people would most likely travel to work with



Estimated number of workers

Runny nose

80 per cent

22.7 million


80 per cent

21.7 million

Aching limbs

75 per cent

21.3 million

Sore throat

66 per cent

18.8 million


48 per cent

13.8 million

Sickness and/or diarrhoea

47 per cent

13.3 million

High temperature

35 per cent

9.9 million

Source: Direct Line Life Insurance, 2021

But it seems workplaces disagree and the pandemic may be killing off presenteeism, as working from home has become more standard practice. The overwhelming majority (93 per cent) of HR managers2 say they would encourage their staff to work from home if they were ill.

With two thirds (66 per cent) of HR managers reporting their workplaces were open by December, it seems many are keen to avoid coughs and colds spreading, as well as any risk of COVID-19.

However, it seems many HR managers are not betting on the pandemic having a long-term impact on working patterns. While one in five (20 per cent) HR managers think that COVID-19 will have a permanent impact on the way people work in the UK, over half (53 per cent) believe work will eventually return to the way it was pre-pandemic.

Vincent Guadagnino, Communications Manager at Direct Line Life Insurance, commented: “Over the past few months we’ve seen lots of people across the country return to their place of work in one form or another. Even though there has been more of a focus on cleanliness and disease prevention over the past 18 months, it looks like many people are still willing to travel to the workplace unwell, even if they have one or more COVID-19 symptoms. It seems that HR Professionals are keen to be cautious, especially this winter, and will be encouraging anyone feeling unwell to stay home.”

- ENDS -

Notes to Editors

1.      Omnibus research commissioned among 2,001 UK adults between 17th and 20th August 2021.

2.      Pureprofile research surveying 100 HR directors in August 2021


Direct Line

Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides motor, home, travel, pet and life insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.

Direct Line life insurance policies are underwritten by AIG, part of the American International Group UK Limited, registered office: The AIG Building, 58 Fenchurch Street, London EC3M 4AB. American International Group UK Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority (FRN number 781109. You can check the FCA register at or call the FCA on 0800 111 6768.

Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0800 077 8297 or visiting