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Sick Days -- and Common Sense

Working when you're sick sets a bad example, in more ways than you think.

by Kate (April, 2003)

(Note: Kate is a mid-level manager for a major industry company.)

The alarm is blaring in your ear. As you reach over to shut off the annoying sound, you do a quick body scan and discover that you are sick. You canít breathe, your head is pounding, and every attempt to swallow is a chore. You decide you'll feel better if you take a shower. When that doesnít work, you decide getting dressed will help. No? Maybe eating a good breakfast? Wrong again! So you jam your pockets or purse with every cold remedy in the house ... and head off to work.

Your office is little more than a classroom for adults. When one child comes into school sick, the germs spread throughout the classroom. It is the same for adults working in an office. Instead of sharing crayons, toys, and books, youíre sharing phones, computers, and pens. It doesnít matter what the object is, germs will attach to it and be transmitted from person to person. Youíre all breathing the same air, whether a child in a classroom or an employee in an office. A couple of sneezes and coughs are all that are needed for the germs to be airborne.

When you donít feel up to par, you donít work up to par. Itís harder to think when you feel miserable, never mind trying to concentrate on a complex situation. Your patience is less than stellar, so youíre more apt to be short with staff. Often even a bit of a negative attitude can seep into the work process. "If I make a mistake," you mumble between sneezes, "Iíll fix it tomorrow. Iím sick but Iím here. What more do they want?" Thatís not a commentary from a bad employee, but one from a good employee who should have stayed home.

Managers and supervisors have many responsibilities. One is setting a good example for employees. Itís very easy for employees to understand why they should mimic your good work habits --- punctuality, organization, courtesy, efficiency, etc. There are times, however, when a particular example you set is left to the employeesí interpretation. A prime example is when you come into the office when you were visibly ill.

Beyond sharing your germs and being less productive, think about the message your example is sending. While youíre busy sniffling and coughing in your office, all the branches of the company grapevine are busy comparing notes. Here are some of their conclusions:

You regularly encourage your staff to stay home when they are sick and someone else can cover for them. But today, you came in because there is work to be done. Your staff doesn't see that as being conscientious, but rather that you feel your job is more important than their jobs. No matter how sick you are, you must come to work because you're so special, no one can cover for you.

If you work when you're ill, then everyone else should, too. Your staff may conclude that they are expected to follow your example and come in to the office even when they're sneezing and coughing. They may think taking a sick day will be interpreted as not being a loyal, dedicated employee.

Suspicion spreads that you came in because you have a lack of confidence in your staff. They can't meet deadlines without your supervision? You don't have enough confidence in them? They might make a wrong decision without you standing behind them, blowing your nose?

Do these scenarios sound far-fetched? Theyíre not. These are the conclusions that were drawn at my company when a department VP came in with a severe cold (which later turned out to be a sinus infection for which the doctor grounded her, resulting in a missed business conference). What started out as concern for the boss (and hope that she would leave early) quickly disintegrated into negative morale about the company and what was expected of each employee.

What we need to remember is two-fold. First, just about everything we do is seen by someone, fed into the grapevine, and (mis)interpreted by the masses. Our good intentions can go completely unrecognized. Though we canít live our lives worrying about how everyone else views our every action, we can use some common sense. That leads me to the second thing we need to remember: everyone gets sick. No matter what your job, when youíre sick, STAY HOME! Youíll be demonstrating respect for other employees (not sharing your germs), showing consideration for the company (not occupying space while being unproductive), and setting a good example for your staff.

Note: To read previous thoughts by Kate, click on the titles in the right-hand column.

Editor's Comment.

I had no idea what a sick place an office could be since I began working at home 15 years ago. I used to get two or three colds a year and the occasional flu when I worked in an office. Since working at home, I've had virtually none. Ė Mike Hartnett



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