If you’re coughing up a lung in your office and think you feel the silent scorn of your co-workers, you are not imagining things. You are being judged. Despite how essential you are to your organization (really, you are!), no one wants you showing up when you’re sick. Your company will survive.
In many cases, it’s up to the employee’s boss to deliver the message that an employee needs to go home, says Jennie Wong, a nationally syndicated columnist who also writes for the Observer's ShopTalk small-business section.
“I believe it’s the supervisor’s job to get that person home,” she says. “It would be appropriate for (the sick person’s co-workers to) speak with HR, who should then either have the supervisor deliver the message or deliver it directly.”
If employees feels they can’t miss a day of work, it’s up to their manager to tell them they can – and should – stay home, says Wong. “Bosses ought to ask: ‘What can I take off your plate that would allow you to go home for the day?’ ”
Not everyone has the luxury of taking a day off work. And many workers don’t get sick-day benefits. “If you’re financially strapped, you’re going to do whatever you can to make the rent, including going to work sick,” Wong says. “And I don’t blame you.”
Wong has a message for employers: “If someone is coming in sick, and you know they need the hours and the money, consider taking them aside for a private conversation. Can you offer them extra hours to make up for the missed time, once they are well? If you’re a business owner, can you use your discretion to let them work from home?”
“In my own company ... we had an employee who was in a tight spot, and we offered him an advance on his paycheck to help out his family,” she continues. “I don’t regret the gesture one bit. It was the right thing to do.”
A few things we can all do to stay healthy this winter – and keep our colleagues on our good side:
• Wash up. Most people don’t wash their hands enough or in the correct way, says Dr. Marcus Plescia, director of the Mecklenburg County Health Department. And he says that’s one of the simplest things we can do to ward off colds. “Use soap and water. And the old adage that you should sing – to yourself – ‘Happy birthday to you’ is really true.”
Hand washing is key after spending time in crowded public settings. “The first thing you should do when you get off a plane is wash your hands,” Plescia says.
• Get the flu vaccine. “(It) protects you, but it also protects others,” he says. “It’s the right thing to do for the health of the entire community.” Children need it too, he said. “They are a major source of spreading it.” The vaccine is not 100 percent effective and this year’s dose may be less effective because the virus has mutated. But it’s still the best way to protect yourself, experts agree.
• Stay active.There’s evidence that staying active helps maintain our immune systems, Plescia says. Don’t hibernate in the winter. You’ll feel better – and reduce your likelihood of picking up infections.
• Use common sense. Stay hydrated, eat healthfully and get enough sleep. Those smart practices may go a long way toward keeping you (and your family and colleagues) healthy.
And if a teammate does come to work sick? Wong says, “Try to avoid judgment and focus on what’s within your control.” If you can, she said, postpone your meetings with the sick person. “Give them a wide berth and use plenty of hand sanitizer.”