Sick at work vs sick of work

Towards the end of the coldest months of the year colds and flus seem to hit their peak. People at work are either sniffling and coughing or missing days off work.

But what is the right thing to do when it happens to you? When your throat begins to feel a little scratchy and your head becomes cloudy – that point at which you realise “uh-oh, I am getting sick?”

Do you power through it?

The most common mindset is that you need to ‘tough it out’ and beat the cold. This is usually done by ignoring symptoms in the hope that they don’t take hold. It means you can still get most of your work done – you don’t want to appear to be shirking. Imagine if people presumed you were sick of work! It might not be to the usual standard of work, but hey, something is better than nothing, right?

Not always.

By bringing your infection to work, into an office environment where you are sharing confined space with a handful of people, you risk lowering the productivity of the entire team. Look how quickly the Olympic athletes are quarantined to save the team when one gets sick.

Maybe stay home warm, avoid the journey to work, and do some work from home if you are up to it. This is where flexible work practices can really be helpful.

Focus on the bigger picture

It is so easy to worry about the short term, to think that you can’t possibly afford to miss a day or two, but in all likelihood you are overstating the importance of the immediate set of tasks. A day or two off to get well much more quickly is a much better scenario than a week of reduced output where you potentially drag the rest of the group down with you.

It may seem admirable to cast aside the inconvenience of a cold in favour of getting things done, but often the smart thing to do is to stop, recover, then come back to the task 100%.

Polite greetings – but are they safe greetings?

If you do have a cold or your whole family is sick, even though you have been spared – maybe the best thing to do is NOT to shake hands, to say “better we don’t shake hands today as I have had the flu, or I am getting a cold, or my kids are sick – I’d hate to pass it on!” But most people strangely succumb to the handshake ritual unthinkingly! And given the number of people that still cover their mouth with their (shaking) hand when they cough or sneeze – it is time to re-evaluate priorities and rewrite the etiquette and health and safety rules.

For all our New Zealand followers, Eve is speaking on workplace culture and motivation in Auckland and Wellington at the end of August.

Eve Ash produces a wide range of resources to help teams work more productively. Recently she has been producing hilarious comedy titles like Surviving Team Conflicts, Giving Hygiene Feedback, De-Cluttering the Office and Creating a No Blame Culture.




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