Tuesday, January 06, 2009

We'll Have Iced Tea. Never Mind! Gotta go!

Last night my business partner (my mother also) and I went to one of our regular "conference rooms" -- IHOP. I love IHOP because there is never a bad time of day for a fantastic omelet, not to mention those Harvest Grain n' Nut pancakes.

Nonetheless, even my ferocious appetite has its limits. The kid waiting on us approached our table and in as friendly a manner as he possibly could muster, he introduced himself and asked for our drink orders. Nothing wrong with that. Friendly, hard-working guy.

But he also sounded like he was just out of a hospital bed with pneumonia. Sniffle, sniffle, sniffle...

I saw in my mother's eyes that she would not be eating anything... or touching anything that poor guy tried to put on the table. At about the moment he walked away to get our drinks, the restaurant manager walked by our table and let out an echoing loud, hacking cough that almost made me grab my cell phone for help.

That was it. My mom and I were torn about the ugly prospect of being one of "those" types... to leave just after sitting down, and we debated it. But neither of us wanted to eat anymore. Or drink. Or sit there and risk it... So we waited for our drinks to come, and I told the waiter we forgot an appointment and couldn't stay. He was very polite and offered the drinks for free, but I did lay down a $5 that I hoped he would pocket, and we left (and had a wonderful meal at a new Mexican restaurant in The Woodlands).

Why do sick people go to work?

Obviously, people who rely on hourly wages or tips often feel compelled to go to work sick because if they don't work, they don't get paid, and that is certainly understandable. Debatable, but understandable for sure.

It's also part of our crazy health care system in this country that hard-working people who really need the money are least likely to have adequate insurance or insurance at all for when they do get sick and need basic care, such as for strep throat, a sinus infection, or a cold that threatens to get worse.

It seems everyone's favorite refrain this time of year, as more and more of us come down with nasally voices from stuffed sinuses and endless sniffles, is "it's just my allergies."

But the truth is that it's very difficult to tell the difference between allergies and a common cold. (The link has a great comparison chart.) In fact, treatments are much the same because the symptoms are much the same. The difference: with a cold, the body's immune system is reacting appropriately, whereas with allergies, the body's immune system is reacting inappropriately.

Hence, several over-the-counter and even prescription medicines are branded as "cold & allergy" relief, because they contain some combination of antihistamine, nasal decongestant, and perhaps a little ibuprofen. If you can get it, and if you can stand it, Pseudoephedrine works really well to dry things up (including your tongue though).

The Inexcusable Working Sick

There is one inexcusable type of "working sick" people. These are the people who have paid-time-off but don't want to "use up" a personal day, and so in exchange, they go to work and risk infecting all their coworkers and colleagues (who invariably do get infected in a nasty chain reaction lasting for weeks). Yeah, have a nice time on that extra day of vacation this summer, thanks a lot.

To be fair, however, some blame must be given to the common corporate practice of granting generic "paid time off" days to employees in lieu of separate "vacation days" and "sick days." At first blush, it seems nice that if you want to take a day off, you don't have to give a reason or call in fake-sick (which is inexcusable also). But I think what's really going on is that corporate HR departments decided that to avoid employee abuse of "sick days" with fake-sick call-ins, they would just lump everything together and probably wind up doling out fewer paid days off in total.

Talk about unintended consequences. This has been all the rage for at least 10 years or more in the Fortune 500. I don't know of a single study that has examined whether giving employees an unintended incentive to come to work sick has had any impact on how many sick days the entire workforce requires in any year. I wouldn't be surprised if the total number of days has actually risen. And unlike vacation days, being sick is not something people can plan, which makes the impact on productivity even worse.

In my company, we are pretty good and flexible employers. We try to pay honestly for an honest day's work, and we never expect employees to check their humanity (or their family) at the door when they come to work. However, an employee showing up for work while sick is a terminable offense in our office. Zero.... tolerance.... Anti-tolerance.

Of course, in this economic environment, people may not only need the money, but they could also need the "face time" with the bosses to maximize their chances of just keeping their jobs. Ugh. Why must everything be so darn complicated? Why can't we just live in a black and white world? It sure would make being sick easier.

No matter. For me it's time for another dose of Benadryl, Flonase, and Pseudoephedrine.......