• What to do When a Coworker Comes to Work Sick

    exaggerated illustration of sick man

    Normally this time of year I do my annual rant about staying home when you’re sick. But… as nice as a good rant can feel, it’s not terribly productive. So this year I’m taking a little different tack.

    Since we all know that you can’t change someone else’s behavior, let’s look at what you can do when your coworkers come to work when they should be home in bed recovering from this year’s plague.

    Tis the season

    Tis the season for Typhoid Mary (or Max) to come breezing into the office with a red nose, watery eyes, half their medicine chest, and an armful of half-used Kleenex. And a portable heater for when they get the chills. And a portable fan for when the fever takes hold.

    Tis the season to want to wring Mary or Max’s neck for getting you sick right before (or after) the holidays. Sadly, getting mad won’t help. But I have a few ideas for a few things we can all do to help minimize the damage these office plague-bearers do.

    1. Stay away from them – Seriously. If they won’t stay home when they’re sick you need to protect yourself. Do NOT go near them if you can help it. If you must communicate with them, do it via phone or email if at all possible.
    2. Make a fashion statement – Wear a surgical mask if you must spend time in their vicinity. Don’t be a jerk about it, just wear it without saying anything. If they ask, simply explain that you have special plans coming up, or you haven’t been well over the holidays for several years, and as much as you like them don’t you don’t want to share this particular aspect of their otherwise lovely self. If you’re nicer than me, you can wear a scarf over your nose and mouth when you’re around them instead of a surgical mask.
    3. Be compassionate – When they whine and complain about how bad they feel, tell them if they feel half as bad as they look, they’ve got all your compassion. Or maybe use your words, they’re probably nicer than mine. Then… gently remind them that they’ll get better a whole lot faster by staying at home.
    4. Be proactive – Don’t just wait to get sick. Whatever your go to things are when you start feeling like you’re getting sick… start doing them proactively.  Whatever you swear by… miso, bone broth, Airborne, ginger turmeric tea, zinc, silver, vitamin C, essential oils, hot toddies, etc. Start using them now. Use them daily until 2 weeks after the plague-bearer is better.
    5. Be clean – Wash your hands often. Use antiseptic wipes on your desk. Spray Lysol on the upholstery and in the areas they have their coughing fits or wherever you plan to be for a while to make sure the plague isn’t in the air.
    6. Be particular about what and where you eat – As nice as free food is, if your office plague-bearer is drawn to free holiday goodies like a moth to the flame, do your best to resist the treats your coworkers bring in to share while Mary or Max is in full Typhoid mode. You don’t need to eat cookies they’ve coughed all over or seafoam they’ve touched with their germy hands, no matter how good it is. Also, if Typhoid Mary/Max spends a lot of time near you, don’t leave your coffee cup or snack plate on your desk for later use unless you cover it.
    7. Eat healthy food – The less processed your food is, the better. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, get enough protein, and keep your sugar and junk food intake to a minimum. I know, it’s especially hard this time of year, but you’ve got a better chance of staying healthy if you do this.
    8. Get enough sleep – Don’t just get enough sleep to be able to function, get a full 8-10 hours. This can make or break the rest of the suggestions because a run down, tired body gets sick easier.

    There is, of course, no way to guarantee that you won’t get sick from your plague-bearing colleagues, but these 8 steps will go a long way toward helping to minimize the damage they do. In the past, I’ve gotten incredibly sick from the Typhoid Marys and Maxes I’ve had to deal with. This year, I started implementing these but slacked on a couple. As a result, I still got sick, but much less sick than I have previously. Lesson learned.

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