7 Flu Tips for Stubborn Employees

Posted By on Oct 15, 2009

I have the flu. Despite combing through CDC materials and surfing way too many other sites, I’m still uncertain whether it’s the garden variety seasonal flu or the more “exotic” H1N1/swine strain. No matter. It’s winning and I don’t consider myself an easy target.

You see, I’m a stubborn employee. I’m one of those fools who is under the mistaken belief that my active little cog in the wheel of commerce cannot stop moving. I don’t take sick days. I don’t miss business trips. I push and push and push because “I’m needed”. Employers and clients tend to like people like me because we will get things done come hell or high water. But let’s be honest, we’re sickness morons, and that’s what makes us the most dangerous type of flu carrier.

Given this issue, I’ve prepared seven tips for your most pig-headed (pun intended) employees during this unusual flu season:

Flu Tip #1: Do not pretend to be “ok” and participate in public activities. The flu Gods will laugh at your ignorance.

Feel like a tough guy/gal for working through the pain? Ready to jump on that airplane, rush to a client site or lock yourself in a conference room with your beloved colleagues? Well that’s what someone did to me and I’d love to get their name and address about right now. Stay home big shot.

Flu Tip #2: You’re not that important. Somehow the world will revolve without you, so take a sick day.

I said a sick day. Not a “work from home day”. Not a “I’m just checking a few emails and voicemails” day. I’m talking a regressive return to childhood day where you doze in and out of consciousness. And the rest of the world? As one of my wise Twitter followers said to me yesterday, “When I think I’m too important to take time for myself, I remember that graveyards are filled with irreplaceable people.

Flu Tip #3: Buy a TiVo. This is the one time you’re allowed to watch TV in a zombie-like state. Take advantage of it.

One of the only benefits of being sick is the ability to watch TV. Wondering what all the fuss is about Mad Men? Watch an entire season in one day. You feel awful so try to be entertained as opposed to wallowing in silence. Your family would rather hear the clink of three martini lunches over your quiet moaning.

Flu Tip #4: Take a shower. You’re sick and you smell like it. And yes, those sweat pants will be burned.

Sick people stink. Clean yourself. It will require some effort but you’ll feel better for at least a few minutes. And remember that you own more than one loose-fitting set of garments so try and work the rotation. Be prepared for your favorite college t-shirt to be incinerated in the interest of public safety.

Flu Tip #5: Don’t apply your limited energy to work and leave nothing for your family.

Your family loves you and has tremendous empathy for your situation. However, if you pretend to be alright for a conference call and then collapse into a whining heap afterwards, this will not go over well. If you have enough energy to put on a happy face, save it for your caregivers or pay the price.

Flu Tip #6: You are not an extra in “Outbreak 2“. Cover your mouth/nose/face (head if necessary) and have some manners.

Somehow you’ve managed to live this long and never understood the basics of how illnesses spread. Be sensitive to the poor saps that come across your diseased path and control your coughing, sneezing and exposure. Wash your hands often. Stop touching stuff that others have to touch. Use your brain and try and stem the growth of this little monster called the flu.

Flu Tip #7: Just when you think you might be better, you’re not, so stop pretending otherwise.

This is one nasty virus. It’s a tease. You’ll be like, “O man my fever seems to be coming down and I’m ready to go back to work”, and the flu will be like, “Really? Have you checked your stomach ’cause I’ve got big plans for later today.” Be prepared to take whatever time is necessary to get this thing out of your system.

I know I’m writing a blog post while I have the flu, but I felt a surge of irony overcome me today. I’m a giver. :)

What tips would you add to this list? Have you joined the ranks of the infirm? Do you have stubborn coworkers that you wish would go home already? Share your tales in the comments section below and let’s keep the (disease free) conversation going.


  1. As a fellow “sick but not-that-important” person, I would add that I think that SudaCare struck gold when they invented “Shower Soothers”. My fave is the vanilla eucalyptus. So, as you follow Mark’s tip #4, throw one of those puppies on the shower floor and suddenly when the hot water hits it you can breathe better.

    I also find that since childhood, M&M’s make me feel better :-)

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  2. Yeah, right. I’ll stay home when my employer breaks out my sick time from my vacation time in the so-called “PTO” scam that most employers use these days. Most of us can’t afford to get sick unless we want to lose any chance of taking a vacation.

    One good bout of the flu can totally wipe out your PTO balance for the year. If our employers really wanted us to stay home when we are sick, they never would have created this PTO scam.

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  3. Hope you feel better soon. I like the “I’m just not that important” aspect. I think we all take our careers a bit too seriously sometimes. Just because we live in a 24/7 tech world…doesn’t mean we need to be plugged in and going that much…or we’ll burn out.

    Hopefully employees will heed your advice to keep the flu from spreading too much and hopefully employers will be patient during the lost productivity…as the rest will do you good and you can hit the ground running upon return.

    (Unless of course you’re a working parent and it runs through the entire family…then you may need to become a work-at-home caregiver!)

    Get well soon!

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  4. I hope you are feeling better! Thank you, thank you for “spreading” this message!!! Sick people are contagious – you are doing everyone a service by staying home when you are sick. As far as which flu? “ILI” is the new term- “Influenza-Like Illness.” The expert consensus at the moment is that 99% of the flu out there is H1N1, and it’s being treated as if it’s H1N1.

    2 tips (from CDC flu.gov) – 1.) Don’t go back to work until you have been fever-free for 24 hours WITHOUT fever-reducing medication (people forget the second part of that.) 2.) If you feel better for a few days, then all of a sudden, you feel REALLY sick again-call the doc and get to the ER. I am not a medical professional, but that second point seems to be coming up over and over again…

    Most of all, feel better!


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  5. Great article! I’m reading it as I have my work e-mail open in the background and I’m recovering from the swine myself. I’m pretty fresh out of college and have only been in the business world for 10 months now. My boss nearly flipped his lid when 45 minutes into my Tuesday shift I told him that I had to see the doctor because they told me over the phone that I might be contagious. He immediately pointed the way to the door and other colleges have told me that he was less than impressed by my attempts to come to work that day.

    Long story short, I didn’t feel as if I was too sick to go to work or contagious so I should stay home. Now I have about a half a dozen people from the office e-mailing to check up on how I’m doing, when in fact, they just want to know if their scratchy throat is related to what what dead I may have bestowed on my beloved set of cubicles.

    I’ve never felt awful since I’ve left, but now I can’t stand another syndicated sit comedy!

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  6. Thank you for addressing this. Watching people sniffle their way through the day with this “look what a trooper I am” air about them is sooooo ridiculous considering that most of us would rather they stay home then have them give us their ickies.

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  7. In our office I’m the “low man on the totem pole”; everybody treats me like an idiot until they need me. When I’m sick, I stay home. Somehow, this is when everything falls apart. Too bad. I watch the other “important” people come in sick and I try to avoid their germs.

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  8. Mark, I totally agree with #1 and #4. I was sick the week before, thankfully not with the flu, but I had a cold. And I’ll be honest, I spent at least 36-48 hours in the same clothes. At some point, a shower is required to be a part of the human race again. ; ) I was also really proud of myself for saying no to activities and staying at home. It was killing me to do so, but I’m back to normal this week so it all worked out for the best.

    May you be well soon!

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  9. So timely! I don’t have the flu just a really bad cold. I did stay home BUT I worked from home the entire week. My rationale is that I am vacation next week so I can rest then.

    One thing we do at my job is stay out at the first sign of an illness because we have people who have had major illnesses and organ transplants. What we don’t do is actually take time off.

    I think I may post this article around.


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  10. A friend went to a convention with the swine flu. I really disapprove. I feel sorry for all those other people there. People need to be considerate and think of others. They could have medical conditions that could be devestated by this flu. Staying home with the swine flu is part of social responsibility.

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  11. Where I work, there are always sneezers. They think they are real road warriers, but I thnk that they are a-wipes for coming in to work and getting the rest of us sick.

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  12. This swine flu thing is WAY overhyped. I’m at my office right now working with a 102 fever. My hat’s off to all the loyal, hard workers out there toughing out H1N1 and showing up every day.

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  13. It’s because of people like you that epidemics are started and lives are affected needlessly. Maybe for once our government is trying to do right by its citizens and get the word out instead of sweeping it under a rug. If you insist on working while you are sick, at least have the courtesy of doing it at home.

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  14. I think Lonnie L. is right. It is because of lazy sick peopel like “DIsagree with Lonnie L.” that work is not done and we loose jobs to overseas. You don’t call in sick in China, the government tells you when you are sick. Here, you wake up somewhat sick, you call in sick, your work isn’t done, they layoff everyone and send the jobs to China! I believe it is a conspiracy by the drug companys to sell more tier 3 anti-flu medications. That’s why i do not vaccinate my children or let my family get flu shots. IT’S ALL ABOUT MONEY!!! We wouldn’t have N1H1 if we had a Republican administration. Yeah, I went there!

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  15. I agree with the earlier poster regarding Paid Time Off (PTO) contributing to this. When I worked for a company that instituted this “progressive” policy, I said the heck with it, I’m coming in if I’m sick; why waste a “vacation” day when I feel bad. Lately, I’ve had the good fortune to work for government outfits that give you TWELVE sick days a year, and you can accumulate them forever. It’s a true win-win…I don’t use them for “mental health” days, preferring to save them up as insurance against something like a car accident, or major sickness (like H1N1), but when I realize I have weeks of sick time banked, I’m much, much more likely to take a couple days off when I’m feeling under the weather. PTO was instituted because of short-sighted bean counters, and managers who won’t take the responsibility to manage their people and cut down on the abuse of sick time that PTO was supposed to cure. Treat your people how you want them to treat your best customers AND their fellow employees!

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  16. Lighten up, Francis! “It’s because of people like me that epidemics are started”? Yes, I admit it, I started N1H1 (I much prefer my original name “Swine Flu”) and set out on my personal jet to globe-trot and infect everyone on the planet. Now you are on to my maniacal scheme for world domination. Rats! I would’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids! Has everyone forgotten about West Nile or SARS? N1H2 is overhyped by the media (sorry, I’m starting to should like that crazy ShannonF) and given time and proper measures it will burn itself out.

    BTW, I work from home. I guess some people do not understand sarcasm.

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  17. @Trish McFarlane – Great tip. Nothing like a Soother in a hot shower!

    @QA – Not familiar with the “PTO scam” despite my sufficient expertise in the HR industry. I agree that the flu can wipe out your balance, but I’d also suspect that most employers would rather you stay home now and may be more reasonable given H1N1. Worth a conversation with HR.

    @Leanne Chase – Thanks Leanne. Employers need to be prepared for the loss of productivity and demonstrate more flexibility given this unique animal of a virus.

    @Ellen Rossano – Terrific tips and thank you for the well wishes. :)

    @Donna – Agree 100% here Donna!

    @Alice – Codependency on the “low man” may be a good topic for another post. Stay home. Get well. The rest will survive.

    @Kari Quaas – I hear ya. The shower does wonders. Glad to have you back at full strength!

    @Dani – That’s awesome Dani, and way to be sensitive to the coworkers with less-than-stellar immune systems. Sounds like a very good culture.

    @Mary – It is part of social responsibility. Your friend’s conference badge should have a skull and crossbones on it. :)

    @Lefty Louie – A-wipes they are. Great comment, thanks.

    @Lonnie L – Definitely didn’t read sarcasm in your first message (loud and clear in the second) so I was ready to blast you as well. However, as a fan of sarcasm you went sufficiently overboard to negate the issue in your last comment. That being said, I don’t think the media is overhyping this. It’s just getting started and my friends at the CDC are sufficiently worried to make me believe this is real and getting worse.

    @Disagree w/ Lonnie L – Nice name choice. :) I personally like the “error on the side of caution” tone here. Can’t really hurt us to be courteous and wash our frickin’ hands, right?

    @Shannon F – Wow. Um. Not sure what to comment on first. Maybe you’re being sarcastic too, but somehow I doubt it. Let me just comment on the “lazy sick people” portion ’cause apparently I’m one of them. I work 80-100 hours per week so I don’t think it’s “lazy” to take care of yourself and stop the spread of disease, and I certainly don’t believe that being sick with H1N1 is why your job might get outsourced to China. There’s a lot of misdirected anger in your one tiny little comment Shannon.

    @Tom T – Agree with one half and disagree with the other half of your statement (I won’t say which half…it’s more fun that way). I do think that you and others are tapping into a general sense of, “…but I can’t afford to call in sick”. Employers really need to think about how they’re going to treat this illness as a unique circumstance that requires a loosening of policy. Otherwise employees will come in sick and take down a high percentage of the workforce in the process. In that case, everyone loses. Thanks Tom.

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  18. Do you really have friends at the CDC? And, if you’re working 80-100 hours/week, how do you have time to write such a lengthy reply? Mmmm. Makes me wonder…

    @Alice: agree with you 100% sister!

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  19. @Really – Ok, you caught me. By “friends” I meant “lab rats”, ’cause let’s be honest, people that work as much as I do don’t have real friends. The real question is how I had time to write this blog post in the first place. Obviously I don’t take my own advice. Thanks for policing this issue. :)

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  20. I must admit, I get more than a little annoyed at people who stay home at the first sign of a sneeze…because I’m one of the ones who will get stuck working 12 hour shifts doing their work to meet their deadlines…and working all weekend to get my own work done.

    High fever…stay home. Head cold…suck it up and be an adult. Take precautions against spreading your cooties, and stay away from others, but don’t expect your coworkers to jump for joy that you thought of them first (because you didn’t). What makes you think the person who used the shopping cart before you wasn’t typhoid Mary? Or the person who used the gas pump just before you got there? Face it…you’ll be exposed to microbial menaces all day long.

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  21. The company I work at is now requiring all employees to wear surgical masks at work. We look like a staff of Michael Jacksons minus the glove. It’s rediculous that HR makes us go to such silly lengths when there have been NO cases of h1n1 in the building.

    @ Tom T: Right on, brother.

    @Lonnie L: agree that it’s waaaay OVERHYPED

    @Shannon F: Have you been smokin crack? Everybody knows that Bush started all kinds of sh*t, probably even swine flu. Just wait until longhorn flu comes around. Bad sh*t I tell ya.

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  22. Very interesting. I’d like to share an interesting quote about health. “A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools.”

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