Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sick at Work? Go Home. No, Seriously.

Admit it: If you have a regular day job, and someone calls in sick, at least 75% of the time, you judge them.

I know I do it.

I think I've become incredibly jaded, partially because I was in a supervisory position for a brief period of time and relied upon people to come in and do their share of work, and sometimes (in fact, many times), I got left up the creek without a paddle. Even when I wasn't a semi-supervisor, I saw people sneak sick days all the time. Let's be honest: often, the only sickness we are really suffering is one involving "mental health," where if we don't call in sick, we're likely to show up and open fire.

But then there are those people. Or, for some of us, there are just those times, where we feel the obligation to work, even if we have been known to take those mental health days. You know what I'm talking about: coming into work sick, with a growing pile of tissues near the desk, coughing, hacking, and sneezing through the day. You can just feel the germs emanating from that cubicle, landing on you and taking up residence in your sinuses.

Why do people go to work sick? I have a few theories:

1) When I actually got sick days, I hated to waste valuable sick time on actually being sick. At the time, I would rather go to work half-dead and struggle through it, and reserve my sick time for those days where I was merely mentally fatigued and wanted to curl up with a good book or some daytime TV. 

2) Ego. Think about it: if you are a boss, and you see one of your employees come in even though they are obviously sick, part of you does kind of think "OK, this person is showing some dedication." I know I always felt that way as an employee: look at me! I'm sick, but I'm coming to work anyways! I must be awesome! (Granted, I had usually taken a few mental health days before then, thereby negating any real status boost I might've gained... oh, to be young and naive again...) Plus, let's face it, when we go to work sick, we do feel pretty virtuous about it.

3) These days: no sick time. This is an unfortunate reality of the present day workplace. I've been a part of this group of people as well - where waking up doesn't involve that quick calculation of "how many sick hours do I have left?" Instead, it involves, "How much can I afford to spend this month if I don't go to work today?"

I'm very fortunate in that I get to work from home a lot of the time; however, my day job involves a very significant amount of business development activity, meaning I am constantly venturing forth to networking events or face-to-face meetings to find some new people that might be willing to send me some business. I've been fairly insulated from whatever general illnesses have been circulating the population, though, until I decided to attend a bar association event on Wednesday.

What the hell is it about lawyers that makes them all fall into category #2? There wasn't a person in that room that wasn't sniffling, sneezing, or coughing. And for the first time (as I felt the germs invading my body), all I could think was, "Really, people? You couldn't stay home today?" I've been blessed with fairly good health for the past 9 months, and am not eager to acquire the yearly cold/upper respiratory infection I usually manage to get somewhere between November and March. I thought I might squeak by this year, but to no avail. Unfortunately, my symptoms started to manifest while I was making my way through the annual International Motorcycle Show in Chicago. I typically really enjoy the event, being a little bit of a motorcycle enthusiast myself, but my sinuses prevented me from having a good time this year.

And, honestly, I blame the lawyers. 

Really, the whole situation has given me a new perspective. I've never really been able to pinpoint who caused me to get sick before - usually it's just some nebulous event that starts to develop over time. But actually being able to tell when I (most likely) acquired my illness has made me realize - if you go out somewhere, and you're sick... you're spreading germs! Intellectually, I've always understood this simple concept. But never have I thought... "I'm infecting people!" I've just gone about my business as usual. 

So, in the vein of "do unto others," I've resolved - I'm going to do my best not to be a germ-spreader. I'm not a hypochondriac, nor am I particularly OCD, but there's a lot we all can do to keep from spreading the misery (think about how you feel when you can't breathe through your nose - if you could keep others from feeling that way, would you?? I would!). 

I may be stating the obvious here; I'm sure this is a revelation many people come to long before their late 20's. However, it seems like not everyone reaches this epiphany, given the number of people who, if they have the choice, still come to work sick. So, should people struggle through it at the risk of infecting their co-workers? Or should they take the sick time and come back when they are no longer covered in virus-y grossness? 


  1. I SO connect with the corporate world's obsession with "show no weakness." I went to work when I was sick. Often. To do otherwise, welcomed imaginary "Sick? Yeah, right." thoughts I placed in my bosses collective brains. And, never EVER on a Friday or Monday.

    Why did I imagine those thoughts? Because I had them myself when an employee called in sick. Especially those who consistently used all sick days each year -- never more, never less.

    Things worked much better when vacation and sick days were combined and called flexible time-off. That way, dedicated workers got the same benefit as those who used every hour to which they were entitled.

    Ah. SO glad those days are behind me.

    1. Thanks for the comment Gloria - that's exactly what I came across day after day (especially the miraculously consistent sick day users!). We didn't have flexible time off at my work, just the sick/personal/vacation days. Plus it was a little annoying - people who took their sick days got the benefit of that time off, but there wasn't much incentive not to use it 'cause then you just lose those hours at the end of the year.

      I'm looking forward to the days when I won't have to worry about this kind of stuff. Not quite there yet, but hopefully soon :-)