Too sick to work? Best stay home

Mary Cornforth Cawood
Mary Cornforth Cawood

Fall has finally arrived in the Grand Valley, and winter soon will follow. Unfortunately, the changing seasons also can mark the start of cold and flu seasons. Shorter days, less time outdoors and busy holiday schedules take their toll. Before we know it, we’re hit with a cold.

While we try our best to suck it up and press on with daily life, that cold lingers on. The problem is, sucking it up isn’t your best option. If you’re truly sick, you belong at home. We’re all busy. But let’s face it: You aren’t at your best when you’re sick. Not only is your productivity affected, but spreading illness in the workplace hurts the bottom line of your business. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults lose 17 million work days a year to influenza-related illness. Influenza is responsible for $6.2 billion in indirect costs associated with loss of productivity. These figures don’t even take into account work missed due to the common cold.

The best thing to do is try to avoid getting sick in the first place. Practice good health habits to minimize your risk of illness. Time spent preventing illness prevents absenteeism and increases productivity. Make a concerted effort to:

Get vaccinated for influenza:  This is your first line of defense against the flu. Don’t put it off. Getting vaccinated is easier than ever.  In addition to doctor’s offices, the health clinic and pharmacies, some employers offer workplace vaccine clinics. Not a fan of needles? Try the nasal mist.

Get plenty of sleep: This is the first shortcut we’re all guilty of taking in our efforts to get more done. But tired bodies are more vulnerable to illness. Make an effort every evening to unplug from work, chores and technology to give your body time to wind down. The required amount of sleep varies from individual to individual, but make sure you’re getting enough to feel well-rested in the morning.

Don’t overdo it with caffeine: Excessive amounts of caffeine hurt more than they help. We all love a cup or two of coffee in the morning to get us going. But it’s later in the day that drinking coffee can get us in trouble. Even though it’s tempting to make a late afternoon coffee run for a charge of energy, you’re better off skipping it. Caffeine is a  dehydrator and can make it difficult to sleep come bedtime. If you need an extra boost of energy, stand up and move. Take a loop around the office, try standing at your work station and do some stretches. Your body will thank you later.

Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water can be difficult to remember in cool weather, but it’s still important. This is something I struggle with as well. My trick? I heat up a mug of water and add a slice of lemon. Not only am I staying hydrated, but I also get to hold on to something warm.

Practice good hygiene: Hand washing and using hand sanitizer is a given, but how many of you are guilty of eating at your desk? I do it almost every day. Ideally, we take time away from work. But sometimes that isn’t possible. Make sure to clean your work area after eating — just like you’d clean your kitchen table. While you are at it, wipe down your keyboard, mouse, telephone and the armrests on your chair with a disinfectant wipe.

So you did your best and still got sick. Now what?  How do you know if you’re too sick to go to work?

You’re coughing and sneezing a lot. Most illnesses are spread through the air.  If you can’t control your coughs or sneezes, you’re sharing your germs with everyone. Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue, followed by a thorough hand washing will help. But constantly grabbing for a tissue or cough drop is a good indicator you’re too sick to go to work.

You have a fever. It might sound obvious, but that fever means you’re contagious. Make sure your fever is gone without the use of medications before you return to work.

You have a viral or bacterial infection. Once again, you’re contagious. Ask your doctor when you can safely return to work.

You’re taking medication. Prescription as well as over-the-counter medication can interfere with your ability to think, make you drowsy and affect your motor control. You’re putting yourself and others at risk just by driving to work. Stay home and stay safe.

Coming to work sick not only prolongs the healing process, but also puts your co-workers at risk. Stay home and get well so you can return to your productive self.  Don’t let illness become the gift that keeps on giving.

Meanwhile, the Mesa County Health Department advises getting a vaccination every year to protect against influenza. For more information, visit