You really, truly shouldn’t go to work when you’ve got a cold

Your martyrdom just spreads germs

Woman sneezing on the couch while home sick from work.

(Tom Merton/Getty)

What variety of martyrdom compels us to soldier into work, when we’re sick as dogs? The Journal of Occupational Health Psychology makes the case that there is a traditional understanding that attendance used to equate to performance in the workplace, a notion that should have been tossed out with the fax machine.

“I suspect that many people come into work when they’re sick because they’re scared of falling behind, or worry things will fall apart without them,” says Sheri Langer, an HR professional in Toronto. “For some, it is a demonstration of just how committed they are, when in reality, staying home for a day or two is better for your team as it keeps the virus from spreading.”

While we might feel like the honourable thing to do is to show our commitment by dragging our sick selves into the office, the more responsible thing to do for the greater good is to spare your coworkers from your gnarly germs and stay home for a day or two.

Here are five things to know about calling in sick like a grown up:

1. You’re doing the right thing

If you’re really sick, take solace in knowing that staying home is the best thing for your health and your colleagues. You’re heroically preventing others from getting sick and helping yourself recover sooner.

2. Pick up the phone and call

Call or email your boss explaining that you are staying home sick for the day. Millennials take note: a text message is too casual of a medium to convey this and isn’t conducive to providing context. Plus, if you sound like hell on the phone, it bodes well for lots of sympathy when you’re back in the office.

3. Give just enough information

While there is no need to go into the gory symptomatic details (save those your doctor), you should provide a cursory descriptor of what ails you. Mentioning that you have a migraine and are out of commission for the day is one thing: going into explicit detail to describe a gastrointestinal issue is quite another.

4. Be helpful

Touch on who-can-cover-off-what in your absence, and if you hazard a guess, say when you expect to be back in the office. If team members or anyone that reports to you needs to know you’re taking the day off, fill them in too. Set your auto reply on your email inbox so people know to expect a delay in your reply.

5. Get back to bed

Arm yourself with orange juice, cold meds, tea, whatever your weapon of choice is and rest up. If you use your sick day to truly recuperate, you will be better poised to nip your sickness in its early stages—and avoid wiping out your colleagues in the process.

Karen Cleveland is a Toronto-based etiquette writer and advisor. Follow her on Twitter or visit her site.

(Originally published for Canadian Business, October 2014)

During the summer, stay cool on casual Friday—without looking like a slob

Summer heat + casual Friday = wardrobe disaster. Don’t let it happen to you

You know him well. The guy around the office that takes Casual Fridays to new extremes in the summer, arriving in grass-stained shoes, baggy cargo shorts and an oversized T-shirt with his fraternity logo emblazoned on the front. And you think, “this is why we can’t have nice things.”

While a well-articulated office dress code is your HR team’s concern, what you put on in the morning is yours.

The requisite Monday-Thursday uniform makes dressing a cinch, with little thought required. It’s when the rules loosen up (officially or un-) on Friday and subjectivity comes into play that dad jeans, loud Hawaiian shirts and gnarly toenails creep in. And Fridays in summer are the highest-risk time for such sartorial blunders. So stock up on a few key items and follow a few simple rules for how to go casual while still dressing like you mean it during the dog days of summer.

Men

Model wearing light grey linen-cotton blazer

Two button linen-cotton blazer. $275 at Banana Republic.

  • Cotton and linen rule. Look for a well-cut sport coat in a light, breathable fabric. Pair it with chinos, and le voila, the beginnings of your Summer Friday uniform.
  • If braving denim, it should be of the darker variety (save the distressed, broken in jeans for the weekend) and worn with a collared shirt.
  • While unabashedly sexist, men shouldn’t bare their toes or armpits. Pity, because it’s really, really comfortable. If you want to lighten up, wear your loafers or moccasins (not sneakers) with those handy no-show socks so you can show some ankle.
  • More relaxed accessories can keep your look sharp, without being stuffy. Braided belts, knit ties and a more casual canvas briefcase fit the bill.

Women

Model wearing a navy merino wool flare skirt

Merino wool flare skirt. $170 at J.Crew

  • Work-worthy fabrics shouldn’t be too sheer or tight (check in natural lighting to see if your underthings are showing through). Ensure that the neckline and sleeve cut mitigate any rogue bra straps.
  • Keep a basic blazer or cardigan at the office and toss it on when the A.C. is cranked.
  • Fewer things ruin an otherwise polished look more than unwalkable heels. Only buy shoes that you can comfortably get around in. Feet should be kept groomed and neat, otherwise, don’t show them. No calluses or chipped polish. And no flip flops, or strappy stilettos—nothing too beachy or cocktaily.
  • Skirts and dresses can sit differently without tights on underneath. Try them on to check they aren’t too sheer or too short to be worn with bare legs to the office. If you can sit comfortably in a skirt without having to tug at the hemline, then it is likely a good length.

When it doubt, check your HR policy, or better yet, look to your peers—and those in the ranks above them. Another easy barometer is the purpose of your clothing. If it is used to do anything other than make money (like cut grass, play tennis or do yoga), do yourself, and your colleagues, a favour and leave it in the closet.

(Article first appeared on Canadian Business, June 2014)

“Good old what’s his face” – Canadian Business

Delighted to be quoted in Canadian Business, by the indomitable MrArdle.

Ask McArdle: Canned wine and Twitter feuds

And good old what’s his face

(Illustration: Peter Arkle)(Illustration: Peter Arkle)

There’s a guy in my office I’ve worked with for years, but I still don’t know his name. How do I fix this gaffe?

During my tenure with a government agency, there was a comely woman in my department. We worked on counterintelligence measures at the Ministry of Agriculture—let’s just say I encrypted, she decrypted. I could tell she admired the bristle of my moustache, yet I failed repeatedly to ask her name. This awkwardness continued for months, until I finally left an encoded letter upon her desk. And that, dear reader, is how I met Mrs. McArdle. For those not employed in state-sanctioned skullduggery, a more direct approach is warranted. “You can play the earnest card, or the humour card,” advises Karen Cleveland, an etiquette expert and proprietor of the delightful Manners are Sexy blog. Regardless, start by approaching the person with your hand extended, ready for a handshake. Then, either simply confess you are embarrassed to not know their name and introduce yourself or, if you are witty, make a quip about how “your memory recall started to go downhill at 25 years old.” (Cleveland warns “if you’re not funny, stick to the earnest approach, it will feel more authentic.”) If you are too sheepish for the direct approach, you can engage in a fact-finding mission by sneaking a look at their mail when it’s dropped at their desk. That way, you’ll at least know their name when you find yourselves next sharing an elevator.

 

(First published in Canadian Business, October 2013)

What’s ‘cocktail’ attire?

What does it mean when a party invite stipulates ‘cocktail’ attire?

Of all of life’s enigmas, dress codes can be the most difficult to crack. And the festive season brings a deluge of societal invitations, many of them seemingly crafted by a U-boat’s encryption specialist. When a party planner specifies “holiday formal” or “smart casual,” she might as well be demanding “late-period Etruscan.” Fortunately, the vagueness of “cocktail attire” belies its rather straightforward meaning. For gentlemen, the standard uniform is a dark suit, crisp dress shirt of a solid colour or subtle pattern, a tie and dress shoes. For women, this is an occasion to wear what Mrs. McArdle describes as “a little black dress.” Remember that cocktail functions are a time for refinement, not excess. As etiquette expert Karen Cleveland wisely advised me: “You don’t want to be the flashiest person in the room, but you don’t want to be the most underdressed. You just want to look really well put together.” To “gussy” oneself up, Cleveland, proprietor of the excellent Finishing School blog, advises gents to consider a nice pocket square or a pair of great cufflinks, while ladies can take their pick of jewelry. But please, convey holiday cheer through actions, not fashion. “You don’t want to be pulling out the reindeer sweater your grandmother gave you,” says Cleveland. “Exercise good sartorial judgment.” Words that wise should be printed on a T-shirt.

Need advice? Want to settle a debate? Go ahead, ask McArdle anything: Askmcardle@canadianbusiness.com

Illustration by Peter Arkle

(First published in Canadian Business, November 2012)