After two and a half years of pandemic-related worry, constant safeguards of our health, and severely constricted lifestyles, I almost hate to remind you all that cold and flu season is right around the corner.
And even though COVID-19 concerns have lessened for many Americans, we still need to be vigilant about avoiding things like good, old-fashioned influenza and the common (some might call it “boring”) cold.
This is also a good time to remind everyone that the “rules” surrounding illness in the workplace have changed since COVID first hit in 2020. Even though most of us have had our limit of being sick over the past few years, now is the time to remain vigilant and protect your entire firm from incurring even more employee sick days.
Here’s what the experts are telling us about reducing sick days in the months to come:
Do not go to work if you feel ill
It wasn’t too long ago that coming to work sick was like a badge of honor. If you wanted to prove your loyalty to the law firm partners, all you had to do was show up with a runny nose, watery eyes, a horrifying cough, and the sweet, puffy cheeks of a lingering fever.
Moreover, the CDC is urging employers to communicate to their personnel that staying home is the right thing to do whenever they’re exhibiting symptoms.
Fortunately, the prevalence of remote-work technology should make it easy for people to stay home while sick and remain at least mildly productive (although we’ll have a separate discussion about that state of affairs below).
Your hands literally can’t be clean enough
I don’t blame you if you’re sick of being told to wash your hands. Nonetheless, hand-washing remains one of the most effective ways to avoid illnesses.
Consequently, law firms should continue reminding people of this simple yet effective method of reducing viral transmissions and corresponding sick days.
While the old, trusty soap-and-water method is still the best way to eradicate germs, hand-sanitizers remain highly effective against the viruses that cause colds and the flu. Firms can do themselves a big favor simply by having hand-sanitizing stations strategically located throughout the office.
Your mom’s advice is especially valuable this time of year. Always wash your hands before you eat, after you use the bathroom, and any time you handle something germy like money.
Don’t bring snotty-nosed kids to work (but the rest of you need to be kind to parents with this dilemma)
Parents have a double-whammy to contend with during cold and flu season. Not only must they concern themselves with avoiding illness, but they often have to care for small children who are more susceptible to viral illnesses than adults.
Yet, just like adults should avoid the office when sick, those adults should also avoid bringing sick children into the office when their kids are out of daycare or school due to illness.
In order to avoid this obvious contamination source, law firms need to encourage parents to stay home with their sick children.
While that may sound like a no-brainer, many parents have been shamed over their efforts to stay home with sickly little ones. It’s already challenging enough to maintain a legal career and a family, even when everyone is healthy.
A sick kiddo means more attention to that responsibility, and work peers and firm leaders often pressure parents to keep up the same volume of work despite the increased demands at home.
That sort of shaming doesn’t help anybody.
For the good of the firm (and keeping in mind the overarching goal of reducing the total number of firm sick days), parents should be supported in their efforts to care for sick children away from the office.
Yes, the parent working from home might need a lot more flexibility to work around things like doctor appointments and time spent caring for a child that needs mom or dad, but getting a little work done is better than none at all, right? Have some compassion for your peers who are trying their best and be grateful that you can avoid getting everyone else sick, too.
Allow remote workers to take sick days without shame
As discussed above, while legal professionals are seldom shamed into coming into the office sick these days, an expectation still lingers that sick employees will continue to work remotely.
In fact, two-thirds of employees report that they aren’t likely to take sick time when working from home (even when they’re actually sick).
This has to stop.
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that people should be allowed time to heal. As it turns out, real rest is important for recovery. Forcing people to work when they’re ill only increases the chance of them becoming sicker.
Sicker employees translate into additional sick days and lower productivity for longer.
In order to reduce overall time off due to illness, law firms must allow workers — even remote workers — time to get better.
Don’t worry about what others think of your personal safety measures
Let’s face it: you know your body better than anyone in your firm.
For example, you may know (while your co-workers don’t) that you tend to get bronchitis every December no matter what you do.
Or maybe you get three colds like clockwork every winter.
Whatever your situation, now is the time to protect yourself in any way that brings you comfort.
If you still want to wear a mask to ward off colds and flus, by all means, continue to wear a mask. If you want to keep 14 bottles of hand-sanitizer at your desk, do it.
Your co-workers may not understand why you’re taking these measures (and they may even tease you a little bit), but you can’t concern yourself with that. Ignore it, explain it, or even join in the joke, but stay firm with your commitment to your own health.
Moreover, law firms need to support and protect people that take these protective measures.
In fact, in today’s world, anti-mask-shaming policies may be appropriate right alongside other anti-harassment policies within firm policy manuals. Consider adding language about harassment based on medical conditions or preventative measures.
Take some cues from the always-healthy crowd
Finally, law firms wishing to reduce sick days can encourage employees to adopt the habits of people who rarely get sick.
Indeed, there’s nothing wrong with publishing these tips within an employee newsletter or other firm-wide communication.
The truth is that things like taking vitamins, exercising regularly, eating healthy, and getting plenty of rest really do help people avoid illness. Sometimes, people just need a friendly reminder of these good habits as cold and flu season approaches.
Your firm might even consider adopting a wellness program that incentivizes people to participate.
Need some ideas to help you add healthy habits? Download our free printable wellness cheat sheets to post at your desk or around your workspace.
Free wellness cheat sheet printable posters
We know that most people are sick and tired of talking about being sick and tired. Nonetheless, we all still need to do our part in keeping ourselves, our families, and our co-workers safe so that for the first time in years, sick days can be kept to a minimum.