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5 Signs You’re Too Sick for Work

Should you phone in sick to work or soldier on? Ask yourself these 5 question

Heard of “presenteeism”?  If you’ve ever gone to work coughing and spluttering, you’ve probably contributed to it.  The opposite of absenteeism, it’s a phenomenon where people keep coming to work, despite feeling lousy – and it’s on the rise.  Surveys say up to 80% of us still report in for duty when ill, due to fear of missing something important or feeling guilty about leaving others to pick up the slack.

But presenteeism can hurt a company and other employees more than it can help.  So how do you know when you really should “phone it in” or not?

Firstly and most importantly (especially if you feel very unwell) get an opinion from your doctor.  Then ask yourself these 5 questions.

1. Is it a cold or flu?
Colds are most contagious from the onset, when you first start to notice that hint of a sore throat.   After explosive symptoms like sneezing subside it’s less so (although still can be passed on for the next seven days).  The flu, on the other hand starts suddenly and is contagious for the next four or five days – so it’s wise to avoid work for several days after you catch a flu.   How can you tell the difference?  While colds start gradually, flu tends to hit suddenly.  It’s often (although not always) accompanied by a fever, and body aches and pains are typical.  In summary, you’re probably not likely to be able to get out of bed if it’s flu anyway! – but always see a doctor for a definite diagnosis.

Note: it’s particularly vital to stay away from the office if you have the flu and you have co-workers who may over 65, or pregnant, as these are two groups most vulnerable and who may have serious complications from contracting the virus. 

2. Would you be a danger to others or yourself?
This isn’t just about spreading germs, but is your lack of sleep, general fuzziness or any medication you’re on going to affect, say – driving or bicycling to work?  Or operating machinery, like forklifts if that’s part of your job?  Some medications can make you feel drowsy, others can make you feel hyperactive, or faint.  The last thing you need is an accident caused by a lapse in concentration, which could have far worse consequences than a day off with the tissue box.

3. Is your judgement or thinking impaired?
Even if you’re on non-drowsy meds, take public transport or are dealing with your symptoms naturally (we recommend these cough & cold solutions) it’s still very likely you’re not on the top of your game when ill.  Is that presentation or report going to be 100% when you’re not?  Don’t underestimate how poor sleep and feeling unwell can impact your productivity, decision making skills and stress-handling ability at work.

4. Is your absence really going to be catastrophic?
Let’s be realistic here.  There are very few jobs where lives depend on you being at work.  It may feel like you, and only you, can keep all the balls in the air but you’ll probably find the reality is different.  If you need to take a day off, think outside the box.  Can you delegate some responsibilities?   A good business always has fall-back plans for staff absences.   Can you work from home, checking off that to-do list in the comfort of your PJ’s?  Most people understand delays due to unexpected illness and the world keeps on turning.   Of course, if you’re a brain surgeon with an urgent operation no-one else knows how to do – well, you might answer yes to this question.

5. Are you contagious?
It’s not just the obvious coughing fits and sneezes that spread germs.  Cold and flu viruses can survive for hours or even days on some surfaces, and the working sick leave behind a trail of germs on shared surfaces like water fountains, urn levers, photocopiers, microwave and refrigerator door handles. 

Even tiny droplets spread when someone is talking (then inhaled by you) can be the culprit.  At the end of the day, your decision to go to work sick might just come down to the Golden Rule:  if you saw a person coming into work sick, would you want to be around them? 

However if you’ve given it some thought and you do decide to come in, here’s a few ways you can minimise your viral impact:


Do’s & Don’ts for working with a cold

  • Do the “vampire sneeze”: this is where you sneeze into the crook of your elbow rather than your hand, which you’ll later use to touch communal surfaces or shake hands.
  • Wipe down areas you’ve used or touched, perhaps using a natural antibacterial spray such as Bosisto’s Eucalyptus Spray, which kills 99.99% germs.
  • To be extra courteous, consider covering your hand with a sleeve when you hold on to public transport handles or pressing the button in an elevator.
  • Wash your hands frequently, and keep a bottle of hand sanitiser on your desk.


    And if you’re the one trying to survive the office germ-shedder:
  • Open windows if possible, and get outdoors during your breaks.
  • Wash your hands, at least twice as much as you usually would – and give that sanitiser a workout when no sink is available.
  • Find ways to work away from the sickie if you can, avoid shaking hands or close discussions… if it’s really bad, bring it up with your supervisor who might either move you away, or advise the person to go home.
  • As much as possible, try to avoid touching your face – from surfaces to fingers to mouth (or nose, or eyes) is the most common path for virus contraction.
  • Get a flu shot for your best protection – if your employer doesn’t offer one, you can get them free (or for a small cost) at your doctor’s or local Chemist Warehouse.