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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

3 Lies You Tell Yourself When You Show Up to Work Sick

sick person
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Whenever people walk into the office coughing and sneezing, I’m tempted to approach them and say, “Unless you’re auditioning for a cold commercial, I think it’s in everyone’s best interest that you go home. Now. And don’t touch any doorknobs on the way out.”

In reality, I simply douse myself in hand sanitizer, avoid them at all costs, and make suggestions like, “You know what makes more sense than meeting in the conference room? Testing out some cool technology and handling this conversation over Skype!”

Look, I get it. As much as I want to send all my sickly co-workers home for the day, I’ve also woken up, questioned if my head always felt this heavy, downed some Dayquil, and headed into the office.

And you know why? Because the second we get sick, we all tell ourselves the same three lies.

1. “I’m a Brave Warrior Who Does Whatever it Takes to Get My Work Done”

People far weaker than me would surely curl up in bed today and answer all their emails from under the covers. But not I! I’m a hero. Nay, a superhero. Wait until all my colleagues see what big sacrifices I’ve made to come into the office today.

Here’s the thing: There’s nothing brave about coming into the office when you’re sick if you don’t have to. (And I know that there are workplaces with sick day policies that leave you no choice, hence the don’t have to.) There are lots of heroic things you can do in an office—from convincing your CEO to make all Fridays work-from-home days to being the person who has an extra phone charger—but showing up with the sniffles is not one of them.

So, instead of choosing to make this your employee-of-the-month moment, stay home. There will be plenty of opportunities when you’re healthy to show that you’re a hard worker.

2. “My Company Will Surely Fall Apart Without Me”

If I’m not there today to finish up the presentation, it’ll never get done on time. Then we’ll have to reschedule our meeting with the clients. And then we’ll miss hitting our financial goals, and the company will go under, and everyone will be laid off all because I took today off.

You’re good at your job. I don’t doubt that for a second. But unless you own the company and are the sole employee, trust that your team’s got your back for a day or two. Will a meeting get delayed? Maybe. Will your presentation look different than you intended it to? Probably. But will the world implode? No.

Taking a sick day is like taking a vacation. Not in what you’re doing while out of the office (unless you spend your vacations watching horrible TV and blowing your nose), but in the sense that your competent colleagues are more than capable of covering for you for a couple days.

3. “I’m Not Contagious”

When Janet started coughing in that meeting, I insisted she put on a biohazard suit. But me? These sniffles? They’re nothing! Everyone stay calm because there’s no way you’re catching anything from me.

No one’s a doctor until they’re sick. Then suddenly we all have PhDs in infectious diseases and can pinpoint the exact moment we’re no longer contagious. I know I’ve walked into the office looking like I just came from a coffee date with Death and promised everyone, “I sound worse than I am.” And while it was true that I may’ve felt better than my congestion would suggest, I absolutely could have gotten other people sick, and I absolutely should not have been in the office.

So the next time you’re tempted to say that, especially to anyone questioning your wellness in the office, try this instead: “I think I need to take a sick day.”

Getting a cold sucks. Getting behind on work also sucks. In a perfect world, neither would ever happen. Unfortunately, as you very well know, that’s not the case.

So give yourself a break the next time you wake up feeling badly and stay in bed. If you’re stressed about your to-do list, fear not. You can probably still accomplish a decent amount without ever changing out of your pajamas.

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