Ill advice: When do you stay home from work, when do you drag yourself in?

Ever encounter a team member wearing three layers of clothing when everyone else is comfortable, resting her head on the desk any chance she gets and toting a box of Kleenex everywhere she goes? While your initial thoughts might be that you wouldn’t have shown up in that condition and that you’d rather she had taken the day off, examine whether these statements are actually true.

According to a consumer flu survey conducted by CVS Pharmacy, two out of three employed Americans admit they would go to work even if they were feeling ill with flu-like symptoms. Not wanting to use up PTO time and worrying about lost wages are among the most common factors behind this decision. Forty percent of respondents, however, also note that they trudge in because “their company/boss expects them to come into work.”

Being short-staffed is never a pleasant situation, but the consequences of having a sick person in the office can be even worse. Besides passing on germs to officemates, the illness may be prolonged or worsened by not taking proper care from the start. A person who isn’t feeling well is likely to make more mistakes and be less productive than usual. Also, do you really want a bleary-eyed, hacking employee representing your company to customers and clients?

Taking action

Winter tends to be peak flu season, so November is a great month to prepare. Aim to keep your staff healthy and to be ready for possible outbreaks with these strategies:

•  Encourage the flu shot. The Cen­­­­ters for Disease Control and Pre­­ven­­tion (CDC) recommends that everyone who is at least six months old receive a flu shot as soon as the vaccine is available each year. It takes up to two weeks for immunity to build up after obtaining a flu shot, so getting one in the fall is ideal. Promote the time and place if your company offers shots on-site, or allow staff members to leave an hour early on a given day to visit an appropriate clinic or pharmacy on their way home.

•  Take precautionary measures. Keep an alcohol-based sanitizer on your desk to apply throughout the day, and make bottles available in common areas such as the kitchen, front desk, conference room and printer station. Pass out canisters of disinfectant wipes to encourage cubicle cleaning. Notify maintenance when bathrooms are out of soap or paper towels, and spread the word that proper handwashing takes about as long as singing “Happy Birthday” twice.

•  Talk about staying home or work­­ing remotely. Leave no doubt that you don’t want someone who is sick to be coming to work by directly saying so at a staff meeting. Also use the time to brainstorm back-up plans, such as covering for one another and telecommuting options.

•  Set a good example. All the talk about staying home when sick is for naught if you’re still there leading a meeting with a 102-degree temperature. Demonstrate that health needs to be everyone’s top priority, including yours.



Should you take a sick day?

When you wake up at 6 a.m. feeling crummy, it’s often difficult to tell whether to call in sick or grin and bear it. While there’s no magic formula for making the decision, self-evaluation can help. Dr. Michael P. Zimring of Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, recommends looking out for the following:

  • Fatigue and general weakness
  • Coughing
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Severe sweats
  • Diarrhea/inability to keep fluids down
  • Significant fever (anything above 101 degrees, though lower readings accompanied by chills, sweats and feeling lousy also can be of concern).

In addition to judging the severity of your symptoms, think about the likelihood that what you have is contagious. If you’re exhibiting the same symptoms your son displayed with the flu last week, odds are you have it too and should avoid others. Other considerations might include your commute (Are you OK to drive?) and your proximity to others (Is your persistent coughing going to disturb co-workers?).