Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It's healthy to take a sick day

At a meeting with some clients at a hospital this afternoon, I remarked to one of the hospital staff that I hadn't heard from him lately--usually he's peppering me with emails and questions, but I've gotten little to nothing out of him for the past week. Turns out that he had been at home on the couch...with H1N1. He said that his hospital's regulations required that he stay away from work for at least seven days after the first signs of infection, and he was not allowed back to the office to be cleared to work with the public or other staff again until at least 24 hours after his last respiratory episode (aka "cough"). As a hospital employee, he was required to get a flu shot and an H1N1 shot, but his facility ran out of the shots before he was able to get his. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Our culture, especially our work culture, teaches us that taking a sick day is a sign of weakness, like you can't handle the sniffles or a little ache. You ought to be able to power through it, right? Just take some Sudafed and get back in there, slugger! Added to that is the pressure of proving oneself; those of us who are new (or newer) to the workforce want to make sure we're present and accounted for as often as possible, being productive at all times. We hesitate to be absent when things are really busy because we're afraid to look like slackers, and we hesitate to be absent when things are slow because we're afraid that people will think they can get along without us. Usually, the outcome of this mindset and the resulting no-win situation is that people feeling less than their best come to work and do less than their best. Plus if they're contagious, they spread the illness to their colleagues, and you have an entire office doing less than its best. So much for the notion of being productive.

H1N1 isn't much worse than the regular flu, except to some very particular populations (see this link for details). The reason everyone's taking it so seriously is that it spreads so much faster than the regular flu, so you can give more people the flu faster. If you start feeling flu-like symptoms, whether it's now or next week or in a couple of months when the regular flu season hits, just cash it in and stay home for two or three days. Let's face it: if you feel like crap or even like sorta-crap, you're not going to be all that productive at work. Just stay home, watch bad daytime TV, drink plenty of fluids, and sleep it off. Your immediate job is to heal--your regular job will still be here after a couple of days' rest, and you'll be doing us all a favor.

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