Working Through Sick Days

How you can continue productive work through your annual bout with colds, flu and sinus infections.

An annual debilitating fight with colds and other respiratory diseases is something that impacts everyone from the CEO to the worker who is contracted to clean the toilets with each employee losing an average of five day’s work a year. The pressure is on to continue work, either because of project requirements or to pay bills; even though you may be feeling more dead than alive.

Coping with Infectious Diseases

At its worst stages the only one in your household that might not be impacted by the latest crop of infectious bugs may be your fish. This is the time that you need a Jewish Grandmother. If you don’t have one, adopt one. Besides being good Christian practice to look after your neighbors, extending a cross-cultural bond between religious and ethnic groups cements people-to-people bonds that can help us all get by in society. We humans are social animals and work best when we have caring people around us. In today’s society where families may be separated by continental distances, forming a pseudo-family in your new neighborhood is some of the lowest costs insurance than you can buy.

If you need help with child care or even to help to look after yourself, ask for it. There are those who can buy groceries and leave them at your door. Some stores are also offering home delivery of medicines and groceries that can allow you to stay home during your typical seven-day recovery period. This recovery might be even longer if you are hit by multiple strands of this junk.

Going to Work Sick

You do no one any good if you are infecting others at the office. In these days of paring down the workforce, back-up workers are often not available to fill in when someone is out. Maybe it is only you who can deliver the annual -------- report that is required by State or Federal law. Even if so, see if this report cannot be delivered electronically, rather than in person. Work from home for as many days as you need to get over your crud, and don’t spread it around.

Besides being good practice from a health point of view, the stress of putting up with a cold and working leads to mental lapses. Such less than optimum thinking results in obvious mistakes that you would have caught. While you might be valued for your ability to see other approaches or options, your mental capacity is reduced during periods of high fever which in extreme cases can result in blackouts or even hallucinations. You are not setting a good example by going to work sick. If someone tells you to go home, GO HOME. Take this advice, regardless of whether it comes from the Greeter at the door, or from the CEO.

Good Days, Bad Days and Worse Days

As the disease wracks through your body, some periods will be better than others. There are times when coughing can be so severe that you may double over, lose consciousness and fall to the floor. This is a common cause of the elderly breaking bones. This is no less dangerous if you are in freeway traffic. Equally debilitating is if the bug hits you in the digestive tract and you are running at both ends, seemingly unable to keep food inside of your system. If either condition is more than temporary, hospitalization and intravenous fluids and/or feeding will be necessary to keep the body functioning. Don’t try to tough this sort of thing out, and DO NOT take these conditions to the workplace. Go to your doctor or emergency room for treatment.

Review What You Send

At times the symptoms will be so bad that you cannot sleep. You are up at odd hours and seeking relief by sitting up in your recliner, because lying down brings on more coughing or puking. You are feeling worthless. O.K. Do something. Bring out your laptop and write something. Start to work on your next report, review your e-mails and reply to the most vital of them. However, before your send them, REVIEW WHAT YOU SEND. You are going to make errors, omit words, put in half-baked thoughts and often sound stupid. Respond to what you must, but look it over first. Put most of them in a draft folder, and don’t send them out until you have had a chance to give them a second, or third, look.

You are working at only half-mental capacity or less, so budget taking twice as long to complete anything. Tell your correspondents that you will reply, but later when you have the chance to provide them with a better response. If they don’t or cannot understand, then you should start searching for another job that places a higher value on its personnel. Paradoxically, non-profit organizations may be the worst offenders in this regard. Just because you are working for a good cause for little pay does not mean that you should sacrifice your health to do it. Volunteers who rise through the ranks of such organizations have often not received any management training and may be otherwise worthy, but not good managers.

Delegate Responsibilities

Delayed response should be your default mode when you are sick. The next best tool is to delegate tasks to someone else. This obviously gets sticky. You may think that there is a danger that the person you delegate the task to might do a better job than you would have. From the company’s point of view, this would be a beneficial result. You might see yourself as allowing a potential rival to replace you at your job because you feel more vulnerable when you are sick. Instead, assign him the report, help him with it and commend him if he did a good job. Your ability to recognize rising corporate talent will be rewarded in most forward-looking organizations. This supposed negative can be turned into a positive for you both.

Diversify Activities

While stuck at home, plan your work and everyday activities to be diverse. This keeps your body moving, may get you out of the house (say doing yardwork) for a period and provide periods of work and entertainment during your illness. Try to make your activities less prison-like. Maybe there are a series of fix-it items that you have been planning to do. You are certainly going to need to clean up after yourself, which may be an even more unwelcome task than usual. The keeping-moving part of this recovery is vital. You may not be able to resume your exercise program, but try to do something even if only for a few minutes every day. Be especially careful when moving things, as you will tend to drop things much more often, including laptops. You do not want to lose something that you have worked hard to complete because you dropped the device you wrote it on or spilled a cup of coffee on it.

Delay Responses to Get Rest

Just as you work when you can, you must also rest when you can. This illness is interrupting your sleep. If your bug has kept you up most of the night and finally at daylight you have fought through your last coughing episode, go back to bed. When you awake and feel better, then do some serious work for as long as possible. When your symptoms come back, take another round of medications. When the vomiting, etc. is over and you are physically and mentally hurting, REST. Even if you are a younger person with the faster recouping power of youth, rest is vital for your recovery. This makes for an irregular, unpredictable work day, and your disease-permitted work periods will be intermittent and irregular. Typically, it will take you at least twice as long to accomplish things that you would usually do, and at times you might only be able to do half as much. Accept this as your new normal until you are back on your feet.

Complete the Task at Hand

Complex multi-tasking is not something to attempt when you are ill. Make it a point to complete the task at hand, before moving to another. Colds, flu and fevers tend to make one even more forgetful than usual. The old standby of writing it down and crossing it off still works. Make lists and use them. Perhaps you now keep such things electronically on your phone, but even having a sheet of paper taped on the refrigerator door can be a considerable aid in getting needed things done and keeping track of how your day is going.

Stressed Systems and Creativity

One aspect of a stressed system is that it provokes creativity, which may or may not be directed towards workplace issues. Look out for this and record these events as they occur. These flights of mental fancy might be artistic expressions in different directions or in fields that you do not usually think about. These creative thoughts may have commercial value if properly developed. What they do psychologically is to provide mental rewards and relaxations. Allow them to work for you.

Thinking About Another Job

If you are stuck in a job/s where you are just getting by, your sick days may be the only time you have to seriously investigate the possibilities of starting your own company which is the thrust of my newest business book, Create Your Own Job Security: Plan to Start Your Own Business at Midlife. In this new book I tell how to sort out business possibilities and select those that you can implement immediately, others that take more time and perhaps ultimately discover your “business of passion,” that may sustain you throughout your entire life. In today’s global e-commerce world, anyone, anywhere can start a business that might someday evolve into a multi-million dollar enterprise. Even if your goals are not that lofty, the book explains in detail how to raise immediate cash, invest in your own future and alter your approaches to reach your present and future life goals. This book is available from and from your local bookstores. I will be giving a free two hour seminar Create Your Own Job in Augusta, Georgia, on March 15, 2019. Go to for details.

Author's Bio: 

Wm. Hovey Smith is a registered Professional Geologist in Georgia. He is or has been a member of several writers’ organizations including the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA), the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) and the Georgia Outdoor Writers Association (GOWA). He is the author of 18 books with his most recent title being “Create Your Own Job Security: Plan to Start Your Own Business at Midlife.” He has been a radio host and does public speaking on work and environmental topics with appearances in the U.S., Europe and China. He is an active blogger and the producer of over 725 YouTube videos on outdoor and business topics.