Tis the season to catch a bug, to get a bug and to give a bug. I don’t mean computer bugs, nor the insect variety. I mean colds, coughs, infections – I mean the seasonal office bug that’s rampant around now. I’m currently sitting here, typing this blog at 10pm, with a streaming cold and a cough that is giving my stomach muscles more of a workout than a session with a personal trainer. It’s taken this long to get to writing it because for most of the day it has been all I can do to drag myself out of bed for paracetamol and water, and then collapse under the duvet again like some kind of hyperventilating Victorian maiden.
I texted my boss this morning to let her know I wasn’t well, and wouldn’t be in today. Even though I know I would have been absolutely useless if I’d dragged myself and my nasty, rapidly multiplying bugs and germs to the office, I still felt guilty calling in sick.
What is that all about? Why do we feel so guilty when we are genuinely ill and have to call in sick. As a contractor especially, if I don’t turn up I don’t get paid. It’s that simple. So if I call in sick, I really am too unwell to work. But even when I was in a permanent role, I remember how guilty I felt about calling in sick. One company I contracted at recently even had a policy where if you were absent through illness three times in a row during a twelve month period, you had to have a meeting with HR to explain why. What if you were only off for three one day periods, with colds or bugs? And is that worse than being off for two one week periods with a bad back? Is there a league or points system for illnesses – which ones are acceptable and which aren’t?
I understand that there are some people who work the system, who see sick time as extra holiday time, and I know employers need to keep an eye on that. But I honestly think the majority of people are honest, hard-working and don’t need an extra layer of guilt at a time when they are already feeling rubbish.
What happens though, is that people worry about being away from work for too long. And they worry about the amount of work and hassle they will be coming back to, having been away unexpectedly for a few days. So they drag themselves in to the office far too early. They’re not rested, they’re not well, and they’re not ready to deal with their in-trays. But in they come anyway. And then they cough and splutter and hold meetings with colleagues to catch up. And their bugs, which are still multiplying and having a field day, hop over to have fun in someone else’s nervous system. So all of a sudden, three of four other people start to feel unwell. Then they’re off for a couple of days each. But the vicious circle doesn’t stop there. Because they too are worried about being away for more than a day or so, and they too drag themselves in earlier than they should. And so we now have a whole team that is still recovering, is not working at optimum level, and is probably still spreading germs. And because people are not feeling well, it takes even longer to recover, and it;s even easier to get ill again. You get the picture.
It’s no surprise then, to learn that last week all I heard in the office was coughing and spluttering, and no matter how many vitamin supplements I took, I knew at some point I was going to catch the office bug. Short of wearing one of those hospital masks, how could I avoid it? And surprise surprise, after a team meeting in which over 50% of those in attendance had tissues to hand, or were coughing into their coffee, it was my turn.
And so I’m at home. What I won’t be doing though, is rushing in when I’m not ready. I’m worse today that I was yesterday, and I know I won’t be well enough tomorrow to go back. So I will take the hit to my finances, and I will take the hit to my credibility (because dragging yourself in when you’re not well is almost a badge of honour in some offices) and I will stay in bed and recuperate. When I do go back, it will be safe in the knowledge I am better, I am ready and I am not infecting my colleagues.