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If you can't stay home when you're sick, try to limit your contact with coworkers.
Between October and March, the following scene plays out in workplaces across the country.
Employee 1: "I think I'm coming down with something."
Employee 2: "Yeah, something's been going around. Everyone's got it."
Never mind how annoying it is that something's always going around, thereby robbing you of much-needed sympathy. Every flu season it does seem that at least one employee comes down with something and, by spring, everyone will have suffered from it.
Did you ever wonder why no one can seem to shake that ailment? One big reason is the constant stream of under-the-weather employees reporting to work. Yes, punctual, dependable colleagues are making you sick.
In fall and winter, expect to hear a symphony of sniffles, sneezes and groans from employees who refuse to stay home. At first you might admire their tenacity to get the job done despite their own health. Then you realize their presence might make you and everyone else feel just as bad in a few days -- suddenly they're not so admirable.
They'll be better off without you ... really
Employees have several reasons to go into work even if they're sick: a limited amount of personal days, a big project to finish, unpaid sick leave or the desire not to let down co-workers.
In some instances, when you weigh the pros and cons of going into work, you might decide to clock in and hope for the best. These instances are probably rarer than you think.
Tania Hall works for 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, a service that removes unwanted items from people's homes. Although the company doesn't have an explicit policy on sick employees coming into the office, the prevailing attitude is that germs belong at home, not at the office. As bad as one sick employee is, an empty office is even worse.
"The biggest problem is when a person comes to work sick and others in that same department catch it -- if there are only three of you in a small, though important, department and you're all away, it's a concern," she says.
Camille McCaleb, vice president of operations and human resources at Creative Business Resources, cautions sick workers to think about their reputations when they groggily march into work, determined to get the job done.
"[If you're] working from home while sick [and] trying to stay on top of pressing issues, [then] making phone calls, logging in to respond to e-mails or checking voicemails could be viewed as admirable," McCaleb explains. But showing up with a runny nose and puffy eyes? "A walking germ fest."
Explore your options
Of course, simply staying home isn't an easy option for many workers. Physicians, construction workers and retail salespeople can't do their jobs from home, and during a busy season, their absence affects many people.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, ask yourself if you can perform your duties without negatively impacting others. If you come in contact with a constant stream of customers, clients or patients, you're not only exposing them to illness but you're also presenting yourself as a red-nosed, coughing representative of your business -- an image your employer probably doesn't want.
"If you're contagious, stay home," begs Mike Gugliociello, a senior account executive for The Sherry Group. "Coming to work with a cough or a sniffle every now and then is a good thing. It lets your superiors know (or lets them think) that you care about your work." Plus, you can save your sick leave for serious illnesses.
Also, from a health standpoint, can your body afford to keep working without some down time? Sick leave is a chance to sleep and rest, not just an opportunity to lie in bed pondering how scientists got moisturizer into the tissues. If your body suffers, then your job probably suffers, and you're back to impacting the business and your own career.
Here are some tips for working during flu season:
• If you get sick, take the day off. Give your body a chance to recover so you can return to work as quickly as possible.
• Work from home if your boss and job allow it. You won't use any sick leave and you don't leave anyone else picking up your slack.
• When you can't stay home, try to limit your contact with others. No one wants to get too close to the sniffling person, even if you're not contagious. Plus, you probably aren't in the best mood and would rather not make small talk anyway.
• Make the appropriate arrangements if you will miss work. You know to call the boss, but don't forget to let your co-workers know if they're depending on you. If a colleague is expecting a project from you, send an e-mail to save a headache later on.
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