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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

How to Save Yourself When Everyone Else in Your Office Is Getting Sick

person sick in meeting
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Un-fun fact for you: Flu season is upon us, and it’s enough to make anyone a little paranoid. Because no one likes being sick. Sure, you get to stay home for a few days, but the trade-off is feeling like death. Personally, I’d rather attend six meetings in a row than experience the worst of the flu (and I hate meetings).

So how can you keep yourself healthy when people around you are dropping like flies? These tips—courtesy of expert Dr. David Reitman, Medical Director at the American University Student Health Center—will help.

Get Your Shot (Really, It’s Not Too Late)

“People who are getting influenza have much milder cases if they have partial protection from the flu vaccine,” says Reitman. “Also, there are three other strains in this year’s vaccine that can still make an appearance over the next three months. Even though it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to confer protection, it’s not too late to get one!”

And it’s free if you have insurance! You can stop by any drug store, urgent care center, or even Walmart for two minutes and you’ll be that much more protected.

Make Lysol Your Best Friend

And hand sanitizer. And soap.

“Alcohol hand sanitizers like Purell are actually excellent at killing influenza, although they’re not as effective in killing norovirus [the stomach bug]. Hand washing before eating and after using the bathroom is again very important,” says Reitman.

Also, keep your hands off your face as much as possible—meaning avoid biting your nails or rubbing your eyes unless you’ve cleaned your hands first. “The flu is spread through respiratory particles but frequently these particles end up on surfaces. Once the flu viruses go from the hands to the mouth, nose, or eyes, you’re infected,” he adds.

Encourage People to Go Home (if You Can)

If you see a sick co-worker and work in an office where people are encouraged to take sick days or work from home when they’re under the weather, say something. Just make sure to say it nicely (and in a one-on-one setting). Try: “Hey, I hate to be that person, but if you think you’re getting sick I highly recommend you go home so it doesn’t spread to the rest of us. I’m happy to take over if there’s something you’re working on so you don’t feel like you’re adding to our plates.”

This especially goes for managers. Your direct reports may feel uncomfortable asking for time off, so encourage them to go home if they’re not feeling well—even if they don’t think they have the flu.

Find an Alternate Workspace

Co-worker coughing up a lung next to you? Try moving to another desk or a conference room to work in peace. At the very least, avoid using other people’s devices or sharing office supplies for the time being. Yep, that means carrying around your own dry-erase markers. (Over the top? Sure. Safer? Definitely.)

Try to Negotiate a Work-From-Home Day

This might be trickier to do, but if you’re at a company that’s a little more flexible about working remotely, and everyone on your team’s coming down with something, consider talking to your boss or HR about working from home. Remind them that you’ll be much more valuable if you stay away than if you come in and have to take several days off later because you got sick.

Go Into Urgent Care Mode as Soon as You Feel Sick

As soon as your nose starts getting stuffy or your head starts aching, take action. Work from home (you don’t want to be the person everyone avoids in the office), stay hydrated (not just Gatorade or orange juice but water, too), get enough sleep, and stock up on any supplies you need like tissues or medication so you don’t have to travel far from your bed later. Doing something sooner means you’ll recover sooner.

Finally, take care of yourself. Eat healthy, get a decent amount of sleep, exercise moderately, and avoid stress if you can (or, at least find ways to destress). The more you put yourself in a good place now, the more likely your body and mind will be strong enough to fend off illness.