Taking Time to Heal Versus Presenteeism

Have you ever noticed that whenever one person gets sick, the bug spreads quickly throughout the workplace (or classroom)? Not only that, by the time the bug has made its way around once, it has metamorphosed into a different strain and the cycle repeats?

Why is that? While we're at it, why does it take so long to get better?

A few thoughts have been floating in my mind as I convalesce over a summer cold/flu. Generalizations, really. I jotted some notes down between naps yesterday. I'll share the parts that actually make sense:

We tend to continue working (or attending school) while sick: I've heard friends say, "X had to get done today" or a student tell me, "I couldn't rest because I had a test the next day." One thing that I'm guilty of saying when sick is, "There's no one I can delegate to and it has to get done."

Does it really? Can't it wait a day or two for us to get better? Isn't it possible to get an extension on an assignment or to make-up the test once you're well? And for my friends with "normal" jobs, surely there is someone who could take care of that "very important task" at work.

Sometimes, I hear people say that taking a sick day is actually frowned upon at work. I once worked in an environment that was like that. Let's just say that it wasn't the healthiest workplace to begin with and leave it at that.

Generally speaking, we spend too much time in enclosed spaces: Viruses and microbes thrive in enclosed environments such as schools, offices and shopping malls. They spread through ventilation system. Perhaps if we spent more time out in the fresh air, we wouldn't get sick as often (or as badly).

We don't give ourselves enough time to heal: I've seen it time and time again when I worked in an office and read about it on the various social networks. We tend to take one work day off, just before or after the weekend and give ourselves only that much time to get better. I don't know about you, but I find that it takes me one to eight weeks to heal, depending upon whether it's a cold or bronchitis/laryngitis.

One thing I've done differently with this cold/flu is face it head on from the beginning. Thankfully, I'm on a lighter teaching schedule in the summer and don't have to worry about rescheduling a bunch of lessons. I tossed all clothes and sheets containing the virus in the wash (hot), took hot showers, ate a lot of hot soup, drank a lot of hot liquids and slept, swaddled in blankets (in the summer heat) to "sweat it" out.

Each time I blew my nose, I washed my hands or use the hand sanitizer. I even took to spritzing my dog with a diluted mix of lavender and tea tree oils so that he didn't become an unwitting virus carrier.

I stopped taking cough syrup because it made me queasy and turned to older remedies: the neti pot, aromatherapy and the Hot Toddy (virgin or alcoholic). The lady at the liquor store recommended Jägermeister. However, everything I've read indicates that it works best on mild colds, not what I have been battling.

Even with all that, I'm sitting here, Day 10. I suppose I should be thankful. if I didn't fight this bug as aggressively, I'd be sitting here with bronchitis AND laryngitis (again). However, I can't help but think that I would have kicked this a few days ago had I rescheduled the few lessons and appointments I did have this week.

One thing I keep circling back to is the question, "Is it worth it?" Is it worth plowing through an illness to get that "all important task" done on time?

From my experience, I can tell you it takes me twice as long to get my bookkeeping done. By the time I'm well, I have to redo all the entries that I did when I was sick due to human error. Ditto with learning or memorizing music. Even my notes from last night are messy and ramble aimlessly for pages before reaching a point. My practice instructions to students are vague in their notebooks when I try to teach sick.

When I look at what I just typed, the answer is pretty clear: no it's not. My productivity is shot. Presenteeism  — showing up to work when sick — just doesn't pay. However, if you need a bit more convincing, I've found the following:

In "What Can You Do to Combat Presenteeism", the author reports that "Studies of some chronic conditions and health risk factors found that lost productivity from presenteeism was 7.5 times greater than productivity loss from absenteeism." Then the author gives a more concrete example: "if a company has 150 employees and salary costs totaled $6,240,000. Absenteeism would cost the employer about $187,200 while presenteeism would cost about $1,638,000."

While you mull over whether or not it's worth it for you to continue working while sick, or how to convince your sick boss that he or she isn't doing anyone any favours by coming in today, I'm going back to bed. It would appear that my brain and body have decided that we've done enough work for today.