How to Work When You’re Sick


The thing about being sick is that it always feels like this is the worst it’s ever been. Like it’s never going to end.

And nothing’s worse than having to work when you feel like crap–having to think when your head feels like it’s filled with cotton; having to sit in meetings when all you want to do is crawl into bed; having to make important decisions when you were up all night coughing and wheezing.

You know exactly what I’m talking about.

There is, however, a silver lining in all the suffering. Over the years, I’ve tried pretty much everything. So I know what works and what doesn’t. Here are seven ways to be effective at work when it’s the last thing you feel like doing.

Lighten up and let go. We overachievers have a nasty way of being hardest on ourselves at exactly the wrong time, like when we’re sick. Cancel trips and meetings you don’t absolutely have to take. And don’t let your mood influence your behavior. This is not a time to take on your boss or a problem co-worker. Trust me; it’ll end badly. And remember: Stress is bad for your immune system.

Meditate. No, this isn’t some mumbo jumbo religious junk. It’s science, and it’s real. Mindfulness meditation is capable of helping with pain, illness, anxiety, and stress. The hands-down leader in the field is Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and best-selling author of Wherever You Go, There You Are. Get the audio book.

Medicate. Find real medicine that works for you and doesn’t produce side effects that are worse than the illness. For example, some decongestants make me hyper and irritable. Not good. Forget Airborne and all those other dietary supplements and homeopathic remedies. They don’t do a thing. But if you’re particularly susceptible to placebos, by all means, go for it.

Coffee, yes. Alcohol, no. When you have to work, drink tea or anything with caffeine. Just be sure to hydrate with plenty of plain water and juices, as well. Stay away from alcohol, period. It won’t do you any good, and it will dehydrate you. Also, sunshine is a great stimulant. Anything to improve your mood. Speaking of which, get dressed. It’ll help you feel human again.

Keep it to yourself. Some of us just have to complain when we’re sick. I fall into that category. Here’s the thing. Don’t. Trust me, nobody wants to hear your whining. Want to know what else nobody wants to hear? Your coughing up a lung and blowing who-knows-what out of your nose. Do it in the bathroom. Better yet, whine to your spouse and be disgusting at home.

Find a way, any way, to sleep. When we’re sick, we tend to throw all our good habits out the window. We can’t sleep, and if we feel like eating at all, we want comfort foods. Thing is, your immune system needs the right foods, fluids, and sleep to fight disease so you can get better faster. However you do it, find a way to sleep. A lot. And don’t skip the vegetables.

Set a good example. If you’re a boss, listen up. Your people watch you like a hawk. They emulate your behavior and follow your priorities. Send them the right message by taking care of yourself. And when your people are sick, tell them to go home and come back when they’re feeling better. If you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of you.

This really comes down to common sense. Do smart things that will help you heal quicker and feel better, not dumb things that will make you feel worse and prolong the agony. The most important thing, above all, is to take care of your own and your employees’ health. That’s absolutely the best way to take care of your business, guaranteed.