One In Six Employees Unlikely To Work During Pandemic

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Working during flu pandemic

A new poll shows that one in six, or sixteen percent of public health employees, would not show up to work in the event of a flu pandemic. The study highlights the need to ensure a better response to public health emergencies from health care workers. Public health officials, when preparing for public health emergencies, are urged to consider response of health care workers in planning for flu pandemics and other public health emergencies.

The study from researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is the result of online surveys conducted among 1,835 public health workers in Minnesota, Ohio and West Virginia from November 2006 to December 2007. The results showed that approximately sixteen percent of health care workers said they would not show up to work, regardless of the severity of a flu pandemic.

Daniel Barnett, MD, MPH, lead author of the study and assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School of Public Health says, “Employee response is a critical component of preparedness planning, yet it is often overlooked. Our study is an attempt to understand the underlying factors that determine an employee’s willingness to respond in an emergency.”


The study revealed that willingness of health employees to work during a flu pandemic is dependent on their confidence that the threat is real. Those who perceived public health risk as low were more likely to show up for work when they viewed their jobs and meaningful.

“We found belief in the importance of one’s work was strongly associated with a willingness to report to work in an emergency. Our results could help preparedness planners to identify workforce needs and develop strategies for improving worker response,” says Ran Balicer, MD, PhD, MPH, senior lecturer in the Epidemiology Department at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.

A 2005 survey showed that forty percent of health care employees said they would not report to work in the event of a pandemic flu outbreak. The new study is an improvement from the past, but still worth considering when planning for public health needs.

The study identifies a potential public health problem among health care employees that are unwilling to report to work during a flu pandemic. It also shows the need to find ways to develop specific interventions that might increase willingness of health care workers to respond during a flu pandemic.

John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health