Friday, 9 August 2013

Coming to work when sick - should you just stay at home?

Currently I am in the 4th week of illness with a cold that came on top of me still recovering from a cold.  I have been coughing up green phlegm and my cough is revolting, and my nose is runny and I sound awful.  Why don't I call in sick, people ask.

It's true - I often feel like it's some kind of show of weakness if I call in sick.  Obviously if I am REALLY sick with something dreadfully contagious then I don't go in to work - I don't want to give it to my patients.  But what about that cold that I'm carting around, perhaps I should be calling in sick?

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald made me think about the impact of my going in to work sick.  I mean, obviously I knew this already, working in the health care profession, but because colds just seem to be a part of life when you're in medicine, I hadn't really thought about it.
Turns out this attitude imposes a massive impost on the economy. A 2011 study done by health insurer Medibank Private found that people who went to work when they were sick cost the economy $34.1 billion in the 2009/2010 financial year – yes, you read that right – and lowered GDP by 2.7 per cent.
I guess I hadn't really thought about that aspect of it.  With a son in child care, and both parents working in hospitals, we just take the cycle of colds in stride.  For businesses I can see why they would encourage people to get sick, especially if they don't have much leway for covering sick leave.  This example from the article:
“I once looked after an office where all the team sat in pods down one side of the building. One of my team came back from overseas, where she caught a shocker of a ‘flu. Because she thought it would look suspicious for her not to return to work, she came into the office as pale as a ghost. She literally didn't stop coughing and sneezing until a few of her colleagues came to me complaining and suggesting I send her home,” Slezak says.
“I did send her home – via the doctor who gave her a medical certificate to stay home for the rest of the week. But she came back in the next day, claiming she felt better. Over the next six weeks it was like a domino effect as that ‘flu literally struck my entire team down, pod after pod. I had staff off sick for days at a time and at one point an entire business unit was out for the count. Even I wasn't able to escape it."
However, as a contracter, any day I call in sick, I don't get paid.  And when I work in the private hospital, it's really hard to find someone at last minute to cover you, and the patients you may have to cancel because you are sick have many inconveniences as well because THEY had to take the day off, or get their next of kin to take them in and thus they had to take a day off and having to reorganise all that can be a big drama and you end up with some very disgruntled people.

The best I can do is keep my mask on so that I don't cough my filthy secretions everywhere and wash my hands every time I touch my nose.  The article states that you are being selfish by coming into work when you're ill, but I don't think it's selfish.  There are deadlines and things to meet, and people who are relying on you and the domino effect of you being sick that affects your patients who are awaiting their surgeries.  Perhaps focussing on certain hygiene practices at work to help minimise transmission can help.

In Asian countries, mask wearing when ill seems to be a very common practice.  I think that it would be good if people in Australia did that as well - though it's all very well to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, that hand is covered in germs when you touch a door or a table or a pen, but perhaps with a mask over your face, hopefully most of that is caught in the cloth, and a quick rub of some quick drying antibacterial hand gel after you touch you face or nose would help minimising infecting co-workers.  If businesses could invest in that, so people who do want to come to work and help get their job done (rather than implying they are selfish and irresponsible) then productivity could be maintained.

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