By Debra Auerbach
You knew it was only a matter of time. You wake up one morning with a pounding headache and a throat that feels like sandpaper. You force your aching limbs out of bed and take your temperature. As the mercury rises to 100 degrees, you contemplate whether or not you should go to work. You have a big meeting that day, so you decide you have to go. Plus, you rationalize that you can always leave after the meeting if you're still feeling ill.
As you sniffle your way to the subway, you mumble to yourself that it was surely your cube mate Tom who got you sick, because he'd been sneezing nonstop for the past week. Yet as you settle into your cube, coughing uncontrollably, you become the next culprit to spread the sickness to your co-workers. At least you can take comfort that you're not alone. A recent Accountemps survey found that 76 percent of workers came to work sick at least somewhat frequently.
There are a variety of reasons why workers come to work sick. Perhaps they have a big project they don't want to get behind on, or they've used up all their personal days. But if the reason is to impress co-workers with their dedication, it's not working. According to the Accountemps survey, only 8 percent of workers polled said they are impressed by their co-workers' dedication when they come in sick. When a worker comes in under the weather, even with good intentions, he ends up doing more harm than good.
Here are some ways to prevent you and your co-workers from continuing the vicious sick-at-work cycle:
Lead by example
Managers are looked up to as leaders, so if you manage a team and you come into work sick, you're setting a precedent and encouraging others to follow your lead. Staying home when sick, and encouraging your team to do the same, will show that you're putting the health of your workers first. If workers show signs of the flu, tell them to head home; don't wait for them to ask permission to leave.
Lynne Sarikas, executive director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University in Boston, suggests managers should talk to their teams before flu season is in full swing. "At your next team meeting, ask people not to come to work sick and spread their germs around the office," she says. Sarikas also recommends that sick workers let their managers know if they have any critical deadlines or meetings so other arrangements can be made for coverage. That way the ill person knows the work is getting done and won't feel guilty about missing deadlines.
If you're not a manager, consider talking to your boss about the concerns you have when others come in sick. And if a co-worker does call in sick, offer to pick up some of the slack. Then, when and if you catch a cold, your co-workers may come to your rescue.
Make working at home an option
These days, most work can be done with a computer and Internet connection. Managers should make working from home an option for those who are under the weather but feel strong enough to hammer through some projects. "Make arrangements in advance to ensure that employees can access their office email and other key files from home," Sarikas says.
Encourage preventive measures
"Employers should focus on employee well-being by always offering free flu shots for their employees and families, and making sure that there are proper levels of education and support for combating winter blahs," says Kyle Pribilski, principal at human capital management company Formation HCM.
If you're not sure what your company offers, ask your human resources manager and share what you learn with your team. If your company doesn't provide much support, consider spearheading your own prevention program, even if it's just for your department.
Even if all the preventive measures are put in place, it's inevitable that workers will still show up to work with the sniffles. Leigh Steere, co-founder of Managing People Better, LLC, shares these ways you and your co-workers can prevent the spread of those productivity-killing germs:
- Spray your shirt: Sneeze or cough into the collar of your shirt or into the crook of your elbow instead of into your hand. That way the germs are caught in your shirt as opposed to your hand, and you are less likely to spread germs to others. If you do sneeze or cough into your hands, wash them as soon as possible.
- Know your ABC's: Wash your hands thoroughly after blowing your nose. Keep your hands under hot running water the equivalent amount of time it takes to sing the ABC's. Don't forget to use soap, and turn the faucet off with a paper towel.
- Use paper towels: After washing your hands, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet, so you keep from getting more germs on your hands. Also, use towels, or your sleeve, to open doors.
- Wipe off your work space: At the end of the day, wipe down your work surfaces -- keyboard, telephone, pens -- with a disinfectant wipe.
The next time you wake up with those familiar aches and pains, do yourself and your co-workers a favor and go back to sleep.
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