How to handle missing work when you’re sick

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Working when sickFlu season has come early this year, and it doesn’t look like it will be over any time soon. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Jan. 18, 48 states reported widespread geographic flu activity. So even if you’re not sick, someone around you may be under the weather.

This is especially true in the workplace. Chances are someone in your office isn’t feeling well but decided to come to work anyway. A 2011 CareerBuilder survey found that 72 percent of workers typically go to work when they’re sick. One reason? The guilt factor. More than half of workers said they feel guilty if they call in sick.

Working from home versus not working at all
While you may be nervous about missing work, stay home anyway, especially if you have a fever or think you might be contagious. If you have the energy to work but you’re mostly concerned about infecting others, consider doing some work from home. Most employers are flexible, since these days, workers can get almost as much accomplished at home as in the office. If you have a laptop, an Internet connection and a phone, you should be able to knock out the most important to-dos or at least keep up with your emails.

But if you’re really under the weather, you should step away from the computer and rest so you can recuperate. It won’t help anyone if you continue to work while sick, only to end up sicker than before. An article from WebMD shares some factors to consider when deciding whether you’re too sick to go to work, such as how well you can still perform your duties and whether certain medications may impair your ability to do your job.

“Quality of work can suffer when an employee isn’t feeling well; it is sometimes better to take an extra day completing an assignment and do it correctly rather than rush through and perform poorly,” says Peter Handal, CEO of international training and solutions company Dale Carnegie Training. “If an employee knows the quality of their work will be negatively affected due to their illness, it is best for all parties involved to call in sick.”

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Handling the workload
Shutting off from work may seem easier said than done, but if you plan ahead, rely on your co-workers and give yourself a break, you can get through it. Here are tips from Handal on how to ensure your colleagues’ and clients’ needs are met while you stay home and recover:

  • Don’t delay: If you’re feeling under the weather, call in sick as early as you can — the night before if possible. Follow your company’s procedure for calling in sick — whether it’s calling human resources or your immediate supervisor. Notify them via both email and phone to ensure the message is received in a timely fashion.
  • Offer to call in to important meetings: Workers often think that their responsibilities and obligations are so important that they aren’t entitled to a well-deserved and needed break. Client meetings and high-profile calls that are scheduled far in advance are often legitimate reasons for workers to try and get into the office, even if they’re feeling under the weather. However, if you’re highly contagious, it might not be worth it. Participating in a meeting while sick can mean productivity will be low, perhaps doing more harm than good. If you don’t think you can sit out of an important meeting, offer to join by phone instead.
  • Stay in contact: If you’re worried about missing deadlines or getting piled under tons of work when you’re back, be proactive. Notify your team every day that you’re out, and communicate your list of urgent to-dos. If there is anything that needs immediate attention, hopefully your proactive communication will allow for speedy delegation and completion. Remember — it’s the sick employee’s obligation to ensure that all daily responsibilities and tasks are completed when taking a sick day. It isn’t the manager’s responsibility to delegate tasks, nor is it a colleague’s responsibility to figure it out in a sick employee’s absence.

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