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)

Having words

I’m back from a little vaunt to paradise. I’d lament about how awful it is coming back to the blustery weather here, but that would be in bad poor taste since it’s not going anywhere, anytime soon.

My time in Nicaragua was a picture of charming locals and travellers, everyone wildly kind and polite (save for the odd sniping of another surfer’s wave).

At one dinner out, the table was rounded out by folks from all over the Americas and Europe. One couple had a habitual cringe-worthy habit of flipping into a language that only the two of them understood — and chatting privately, in front of the rest of the group.

They also groped each other, but that’s extraneous to the point. And gross.

Point: If you need to have a private word in a public setting, wouldn’t stepping away be a better idea?

(First published on She Does the City, January 2011)

Sticky situation. getting rid of chewing gum without grossing people out

Before delving into how to get rid of gum tactfully, we’d be remised not to at least touch upon how to (or not) chew gum. Picture the stereotypical valley girl chomping on a piece of gum: mouth open, gratuitously snapping it…. yeah, just do the opposite of that. If you have gum, awesome (you offered everyone else a piece, right?) but no one needs to know about it or be made aware of its presence.

Likewise when you need to get rid of said gum, no one needs to see it.

Do not
· Stick it to anything; undersides of surfaces included (I know you bastards are out there)
· Toss it on the ground
· Spit it into or onto anything

Endeavour to
· Roll it back into its wrapper (or tissue, or scrap of paper, you get the gist)
· Discreetly put it into the garbage
· If no other options abound, swallow it. It will not, despite what our parents told us, stay in your stomach for years.

If you’ve been made a victim of a dirty-gum-sticker, grab some ice. Freezing it is the best way to remove gum from fabric.

(First published on She Does the City, April 2010)

Shake on it

Try and use the word “limp” in a positive context. Tough, huh?

Limp handshakes are gross. Nothing worse than when I’m really excited to meet someone, extend my hand and they offer me a limp, loose hand in return. Handshakes are mini rituals. They are big social signifiers – very telling of ones’ character. If you have too strong of a grip, it comes across as domineering. Too soft of a touch and it reeks of weakness.

I’m of the mind that handshakes are best served standing up, as opposed to sitting. What an odd gesture to greet someone formally enough to shake their hand, but not formal enough to stand for the occasion? Even if you’re cramped in behind a table, make the effort to stand up – even if it turns into a weird-ass-barely-hovering-above-the-chair stand.

Make eye contact. Offer (or accept) with a firm grip. Fully take your co-shakers hand (not just the finger tips). Shake gently but firmly once or twice. Smile if you like. Offer your name and repeat their name, if you’re feeling it. Repeat. Become a social butterfly.

If you think your shake might suck, get out there and practice. Ask a friend to evaluate your grip – but first ensure they’ll be honest. Ask them to shake on it, for good measure.

(First published on She Does The City, May 2009)

The change room diaries

Changing at the gym takes me back to high school. Everyone (for the most part) is all business – facing their locker, peeling off their gear as quickly as possibly. In and out. But there’s always the odd one though, isn’t there? The woman that is exceptionally comfortable naked, and is all too happy to strike up a conversation about the weather. Heaven forbid she’s a close talker, too.

There’s one chatty nudie at my gym (whatever you’re picturing, stop. It’s not pretty). She walks back and forth from locker to sink, all in the buck, bottle necking this narrow area between the two spaces like a minivan merging on the DVP. We’re always on the same schedule and I regularly find myself stuck in one area, eager to get the other but don’t to get in too close proximity. Doesn’t the standard three feet of personal space triple when naked? Shouldn’t it?

I’ve now taken a stand. I won’t disrobe until she’s done her weird naked chatty laps between lockers and sinks. I chat with her (eyes averted), but hold onto my stuff with nary a boot unzipped until she’s done her thing. I’ve been passively just gesturing towards the space in an “after you” motion, but it might not be working. I’ll keep you apprised.

(First published on She Does The City, January 2009)