Go Home, You’re Sick!


What goes on in the minds of people who come to work while sick?

What motivates someone who is miserable to wake up early, get dressed, fight traffic and then show up to the office as a mere shell of themselves? What compels a person to bring that misery to the people they spend their workdays? What justifies the risk of passing along whatever ails them to others?

Why? Why? WHY???!!!

I don’t get it. So I Googled it, and here’s what I found:

60% of People Go to Work Sick. Chad Brooks. Huffington Post.

Okay, so this isn’t just a thing that happens in my immediate locale. It’s widespread, like the outbreak of “All About That Bass” we endured last summer. The key takeaway here? 30% of the people who show up to work with germs that are itching for a new host do so because they say they are too important to the business to stay home.

And that got me thinking about “hero” culture. So my next find was this:

You’re No Office Hero if You Come to Work Sick. Michelle Gerdes. Wall Street Journal.

Ah yes, the professional snark I was hoping for in a well written, thoughtfully crafted article. You’re not saving anyone any trouble by dragging your infected self through the door that everyone has to touch on the way in and out, in fact, you might be just the opposite! You might be quite the villain!

So what are we afraid of? I mean, if we’re all about being the hero the best thing to do is to stay home and SAVE people from the misery we’re enjoying. Right? Or is there something else at play?

Why Do People Go To Work Sick? Unhealthy Fear. Joanne Silberner. NPR.

See what NPR did there? They said “Unhealthy Fear” in an article about people who go to work while unhealthy. That’s some craftsmanship right there. Oh yeah, back to the topic. NPR gets to a point that I thought would be easier to come by (although implied in previous articles this is a bit more direct). And I quote:

“There is no paid sick leave, or they feel pressure from their employer to be on the job, regardless of whether they are ill.”

Ah, the pressure, and the lack of sick leave, either through policy or through a lack of available sick leave due to high usage. That will do it every single time.

Everyone knows someone who has burned through sick leave. For the most part, these folks have a legitimate reason to have done so. They were sick, or someone in their family was sick. It happens.

So THIS is what goes on in the minds of people who come to work sick! Some terrible calculation based on being the hero, reacting to pressure, and/or a lack of sick leave!

At the end of the day, aren’t all of these leadership issues? Aren’t a lot of these calculations the result of organizational decisions and people’s reactions to them!

I always say people should stay home when they are sick. I even cast judging glances at people who stroll through the office sharing their bacteria with those near and far. Am I wrong to do so? Should I be thinking less about the willingness of those who are ill to share their infectious friends and more about the leadership infrastructures that discourage staying home?

It would seem that organizations would be doing their own calculations in this area. One person with the flu is better than a whole team with the flu. It’s not rocket science!

To me, the solution that works out in everyone’s favor, is the one where we say to an employee who marches into the office sporting a fever, “Go home, you’re sick”!

Image credit: “Sneeze in white hankie” by mcfarlandmo – originally posted to Flickr as No273 13 Oct 2009 Sneeze. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sneeze_in_white_hankie.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Sneeze_in_white_hankie.jpg 

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