Most people would agree that here in Malaysia, we only have two seasons: the rainy season and dry season. Whilst that is true, we also have several other seasons, good and bad.

The Good: Durian season (well, depending if you are the fan of the fruit), wedding season for makan-makan, holiday season for obvious reasons.

The Bad: The flu season (or any other contagious illnesses).

As I am writing this, I have a flu right under way. We all know how much it sucks to be working while being sick. Ideally, we should all take that MC and stay at home when we are sick not only to take care of ourselves, but to also minimize the spread of the virus around the office. Yet somehow, we trudge our way to the office, completing our tasks while our bodies just says NO.

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While you may feel that you are being a noble, valiant ‘hero’ by showing up to work even though you are under the weather, did you know that you could very well be the unintentional villain by spreading the disease to your unsuspecting colleagues? Gasp.

But why do we show up to work anyway?

People want to show their bosses and colleagues that they have strong work ethics and are dedicated to the job, so they just suck it up and go to work.

Some fear they would lose their job if they were viewed to be ‘not as committed to the work’. Others may have deadlines, or are afraid that there will be too much piled up work when they come in. While some unlucky few have bosses that expect them to come in, no matter what.

Management scholars call this ‘presenteeism’. And it may not be the best choice for either employee nor employer.


What Happens When You Come to Work Sick?

Office environments, with its poor air circulation and people in close proximity, are the worst kinds of environments for controlling and containing diseases. Viruses live on surfaces for a long time, so photocopy machines, printers, doorknobs, keyboards, phones, light switches, microwaves, conference tables… are all prime breeding grounds for germs and viruses. Yuck.


The Negative Impacts of Working While Sick

Impact on the Company

It may seem that having the day go on as normal, treating as if an employee was not sick is the best choice in terms of productivity. However, employers who expect workers to come in to work no matter what, could actually be harming themselves in the long run. Believe it or not, working while being sick could cost the company a lot of money losses.

How you may ask?

Having a sick employee work while their performance is impaired, coupled with the fact that they are contagious not only slows down productivity, but also creates a domino effect as more and more employees fall sick. Productivity goes down across the board, throughout the whole team, as opposed to being contained to just that one individual. And with that the entire ship goes down…


Impact on the Employee

Working while being sick would also have a negative impact on the worker’s health as it prevents time for recovery. With that, the sick employee’s low point will last even longer than necessary, and will also carry on to the rest of the team as they get infected. To add to that, constantly working while being sick can lead to greater illnesses and ultimately burnout, both physically and mentally.


What To Do When You are Sick and Have to be at Work


1. Stay home

It is one thing to have one person down and out with the cold or flu, but having your entire team sick is another ball game entirely. With that in mind, you should avoid being the catalyst for a long chain of sickness – do stay home. I know, I know, it may sound like the simplest solution, but hear me out.

The benefits of staying at home while sick / telling your employee to go home when sick

  • it benefits the employee’s health, making a better, faster recovery
  • boosts morale
  • the health of the rest of the office staff is preserved
  • spread of illness is contained
  • benefits overall productivity levels

So if you can take that MC and stay home, do it. You also need to keep in mind the right time to start staying home: it’s when you first feel sick, as that’s when you are the most contagious.

To illustrate it for you, here’s an example: If you go to bed feeling like you may be sick, and wake up the next morning feeling a bit sick, that’s the day you should stay at home.

Don’t wait until you feel much sicker. It would be too late by then as the virus has already spread throughout the office. It is the beginning of the sickness that is the most dangerous, the following days nearing recovery period is when you are less likely to share your contagious illness. Your colleagues will thank you for not spreading the ‘love’ around.

Read more about Malaysian sick leave laws here.


2. Work Remotely

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If you have things that need to be done, see if you can work from home.

In this day and age, working remotely is becoming way easier, and in fact increasingly becoming more common in many kinds of industries. We live in the age of communication. E-mail, video conferencing, messaging apps – they all enable you to work from home with ease.

If you are in the F&B or health sector that deals with many members of the public, it is even more important to just stay home as this minimizes the spread of diseases across public spaces. We’ll all be thanking you.


3. Sneeze / Cough the Right Way

We all know that we should cover our mouths when we sneeze or cough. Sneezes can travel up to 200 feet away (if you are one of those powerful ‘sneezers’), spreading those icky germs and viruses around the office is a very easy feat.

For your knowledge; did you know that you shouldn’t just use your bare hands to cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough? Use a tissue and dispose of it immediately. If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze into the crook of your elbow.

Yes, it may seem weird at first, but this ensures you are not using your hands, and then spreading it all around the keyboard, door knobs, and everywhere in the office, basically.


4. Wear a mask

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While those surgical masks do a substandard job of preventing healthy people get sick, they do a great job of containing the virus if a sick person wears it, stopping the contagious bodily fluids and phlegm from spreading further. Be a good guy, wear the mask.

A good tip to note if you are an employer, it will be a great idea to provide readily available surgical masks in the first aid kit for any would-be sick employees.


5. Wash Your Hands, Often

An oldie but a goodie. Do use soap and thoroughly scrub your hands. Imagine you are doctor doing scrubs before going into an operation theatre. Just running your hands under water without scrubbing doesn’t really do much other than just making your hands wet.


6. Sanitize

Keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you at all times. Wipe down your desk and other items you may use often such as keyboards, printers and phones. It is a small step to ensure that the most minimal percentage of bacteria or viruses linger on often used items.


7. Take good care of yourself.

Remember that you need to take care of yourself. Stress and strain can make you sicker. Get enough sleep and eat healthy foods. Time to grab all those ulam and vitamins your mom keeps telling you to eat!


8. Minimize contact

Prevent spreading your illness to your co-workers by minimizing contact. No need to be a hermit lah, just make sure that your office interactions spread information, and not your germs. You can do this by quarantining yourself to a less populated area and put up a warning sign that says ‘Beware: sick person‘.


So the next time you feel sick, think about your co-workers. No one wants to be the cause of an office outbreak. If your co-worker comes in sick, offer to cover for them and encourage them to stay home to recover. After all, the next time you fall sick, you would want the same for yourself, too.

If you absolutely must be at work, try to practice the tips given above. You could save your entire office from a month-long sick pity party!



Posted by Munira Hamzah

Designing, illustrating, and writing is my coffee. I'm always looking for something new and exciting to try. If I were an animal, I would be a duck, because ducks can walk on land, swim, and fly!