You are contentedly going through your day when you hear it; a wet, germ infested cough coming from someone close to you. Your heart sinks as you realize that it is too late! Even hand sanitizer isn’t going to save you from the air-borne pestilence that you may have sucked into your lungs. When Eastern philosophers and yoga gurus alike tell us “we are all one” they are not kidding, and that “oneness” is keenly felt when cold and flu season is upon us.
Shopping this past weekend I heard the barking cough of a Retail Sales Associate - when I made eye contact you could see she was far too sick to be at work. I asked her if there was anything I could do for her (she was really not well); she thanked me but refused my help, seemingly content to converse with a customer (it gave her a bit of a break from stocking shelves), so I asked her why she choose to come to work today. “If I don’t come in I don’t get paid, it is a simple as that” was her reply. She continued that not coming in for a scheduled shift also put her at risk of getting bumped down the scheduling list, meaning she would pick up fewer shifts in the weeks following her missed shift (whether this was to allow her to get better or some scheduling algorithmic stupidity she wasn’t sure). Either way, come in sick or make less money was the choice in front of her. It made me very happy to be past the point of having to make a living through retail work, but it also made me wonder how many more of us would get sick because of this scenario which is playing out at stores across the continent.
It also reinforces the North American employee tendency to come into work unless incapacitated (sadly we start training them when they are young). I see people going in to work professional jobs (where they have paid sick leave) with runny noses and watery eyes…people whose well being would benefit from a day in bed. Why? The reasons range from “I am just popping in for a few hours to get something critical done and then going home…” to “I booked a meeting with unbook-able people and it will take months to get back into their calendars!”. And so it goes; even with our unprecedented level of connection enabling most professionals to work effectively from home, we are still coming into the office in various states of contagion and illness.
When we go into work compromised due to sickness, we have lost all perspective on what is important.
If the office cannot get along without you for a day, there is a bigger problem to consider. If you can’t book important stakeholders unless you do so months in advance, your project or program is going to suffer regardless of whether or not you make that one meeting. If you are so wrapped up in your role that your own well being comes second (or third) on the priority list then maybe getting a raging cold/flu is a wake-up call. Even ER doctors, whose role it is to save lives, do not go to work compromised by fever and flu – what is at stake is too important. Ask yourself, “Am I going in for me and my work or for others (when sick)?”. Often it is because we are hesitant (or even afraid) to inconvenience others. But what does that say about how we value ourselves?
Chances are if you have been a member of the working dead and zombie’d your way through a day or two of work recently, you may not have made yourself a priority by getting enough sleep, regular exercise or eating a balanced diet, which leaves you open to flus and colds. You may need some perspective in other areas of your working life…most of us are not saving lives, but we still need to acknowledge that working while sick has consequences. You may think you are doing just fine…until the fog lifts and you realize the mistakes you made and didn’t catch (last time I worked while sick I definitely made mistakes). What does going to work cost you besides your health? Don’t be a working dead zombie, leverage the “oneness” we share (in sickness and in health) by delegating, asking for help or postponing (people will understand) so you can show up at your best, and in so doing help others to see your best is worth waiting for. You are worth waiting for.
Make yourself a priority when you are sick…because if you don’t do it no one else will either. Keep your germs at home; I think you are awesome, but there is not enough hand sanitizer in the world to ward off that gooey cough!
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I believe in giving back to others in many tangible ways. When I learn something new, or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website. You can always find my latest blog entries here, on Facebook or Linked In.