Conquering a Sick Day

By Dr. Farzanna Haffizulla

It’s a crisp Monday morning. Your agenda is interwoven with meetings, projects, and the usual “catch-up” from the week past. You awake with shaking chills and muscle pains and feel like you’re being pulsed by a million tiny lasers. Every time you swallow, your saliva feels like gasoline fueling an already rip-roaring fire in your throat. You have too much to complete at your office; staying home is just not an option – or is it? How do you know whether to stay or go? Though some employees often feel that they should fight through and go to work, there are many signs that indicate that you could be contagious, which is definitely a good reason to stay home.

It is imperative to avoid spreading your infection and be evaluated for treatment to accelerate your recovery. Signs that you are contagious, which should simplify your decision to not only stay home but to seek medical care to accelerate your recovery process, are as follows:

  • Fever
  • Persistent productive cough with fever
  • Outbreak of rash with or without fever
  • Red eyes with mucus discharge that seal your eyes shut in the morning
  • Severe sore throat
  • Muscle pains and achy joints with any of the above symptoms
  • Vomiting with, or without, diarrhea
  • High fever, stiff neck, and headache

The spread of either a viral or a bacterial infection can cause a negative trickle-down effect on the entire workplace. Realize that not only are your co-workers at risk from contracting your infection, but so are their families and loved ones. This may include family members who may have fragile immune systems, including the elderly and newborns. Plus, it is unlikely that your co-workers will thank you when they contract the same cold or flu! When your co-workers develop your illness, resulting in many other sick days across a department or office, productivity inevitably declines. Many sick days could have been prevented by you taking one or two days out of the office. There are many ways you can manage your workload while sick, especially if your co-workers or boss are willing to lend a hand and be flexible.

Some strategies that will allow for productivity during this “down” time include:

Work via remote computer: There are many projects in day-to-day office life that could be completed from your home computer while you are in your pajamas in bed. If you can link your office computer to your home desktop or laptop, you can tackle any computer-based projects you have lined up. Another option is to have work scanned and sent to you for your home viewing and completion, allowing you to stay on top of your workload and recover at the same time.

Convert physical meetings to telephone or Skype: Utilize technology to your advantage. Most cell phones have the ability to add in multiple callers, allowing you to set up conference calls. If you are supposed to call in to a conference line, have one of your co-workers send you the number and instructions. Ask a co-worker to set up an automatic, outgoing message with your “number for the day” and your Skype information. Not only will you impress your colleagues and clients with your innovation and dedication, but you also show your consideration for not spreading your infection.

Take work home: This scenario works well if your symptoms start the day before. Bring home that proposal that must be finished before the end of the week and work on it in between naps. Always prepare for the worst.

Pre-arrange for back-up coverage: Along with letting your boss and other co-workers know that you will be at home, arrange for a specific co-worker to cover what they can of your workload. Let them know of any pressing work or engagements, potential problems, or expected calls. This will allow a “physical” presence if one is needed in your line of work.

Do your “back-up work:” This can be anything that needs to be done but often falls by the wayside: expense reports, industry research, or other tasks that you have pre-assigned yourself and are readily available. If you manage a department or group, this is a good day to review your budget, employee productivity, and financial trends.

Although we cannot predict when an illness will impact our lives, we can certainly try to prevent associated annoyances. The old adage, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure,” rings true here. There are many ways to protect your immune system and body against such infections, including diets high in vitamin C, minerals, and antioxidants that boost your immune system; avoiding sleep deprivation, smoking, and alcohol; washing your hands regularly; encouraging your workplace to have hand sanitizers strategically placed for staff use; and taking time to de-stress.

You should also have regular medical checkups to screen for any underlying diseases that can compromise your immune system. If you do find yourself sick and your primary care physician is not available to evaluate you, you have other options. You can either go to an urgent care center or have a telemedicine consult with a physician via Web or phone. There are also many walk-in clinics at various pharmacies that can evaluate and treat you efficiently.

Many of us have experienced how a sick day can set us back. As professionals, parents, and productive citizens, it works in our best interest to not only plan for these unforeseen sick days but also incorporate prevention and maintenance of our wellness into our daily lifestyle. A healthy attitude and a positive spirit are the foundation to achieving the art of health balance. We are the architects of how we choose to deal with obstacles, such as sick days, that sometimes unpredictably insert themselves into our busy lives. Conquer them; don’t let them conquer you!

Dr. Farzanna Haffizulla is a speaker and expert in work/life balance. Her book, Harmony of the Spheres, offers methods to streamline workloads, solve interpersonal workplace issues, and offers practical advice on integrating work and home life.

[From the April/May 2012 issue of AnswerStat magazine]