I don't know how your New Year started, but I've spent the last few days with a particularly nasty little cold. (Yes, even in the city of Phoenix where the high today will be in the low 70s we get a disease called "a cold". No, the irony is not lost on me.) It came in on Friday and looks like (fingers crossed) it is finally on its way out today.
Monday morning, still in the throes of feeling particularly cruddy, the only thing I felt like doing was ingesting every cold remedy known to man and crawling under the covers. Now, even though I am retired or semi-retired or whatever name you want to give it, I still have a standard weekday routine I follow. And I also had a few things I planned on working on (including at least two projects whose due dates had arrived). What that meant is I fell into a very familiar trap – one that is the curse of any nine-to-fiver. I felt guilty; there was work to do and a routine to follow and I wasn't getting it done.
So, first thing that morning, after a couple of dosings of sure-fire remedies that promised me Instant! Instant! Instant! relief, I managed to scramble together the ingredients for a cup of instant coffee and staggered to the computer. I started out by replying to some of the darned important emails that had stacked up over the holidays. Well, the coffee must have worked some magic because I looked at these fleeting attempts at coherence, mentally slapped myself upside the head, and remembered that I was retired/semi-retired/whatever name you want to give it.
And that meant I really didn't have to do anything.
Now, I am not telling you this to brag about the fact that I can get away with this and you can't. In fact, I'm telling you this to make just the opposite point; you do, indeed, have a choice. You see, no matter how often we are reminded, we forget this valuable lesson: When we are sick our work sucks. (That's the technical term. Look it up. You'll find it in the standards, or the COSO framework, or some place like that – I can't remember which one has it, I'm still a little under the weather, but I'm sure it's there somewhere.)
You cannot do your best work when you are battling whatever infection has you in its grasp. And you are doing absolutely no one any favors by showing up, spreading the infection, and doing inferior work. In fact, while much of the preaching you hear about not going to work sick is about infecting others, the bigger issue may well be that lack of quality.
Would you ever want to do less than your best? Aren't we a profession that prides itself on the quality of our work? Isn't the point of all our reviews and comments and notes to ensure that we provide the client with the best we have? Then what are you doing coming to work with the assurance that you will conduct work guaranteed to be far from good?
And don't give me the whole "I'll work from home" story. Remember, the issue is not so much about the disease as it is your ability to do the work for which you want to be remembered. Trust me, you will be remembered if you weathered the storm and put out mediocre work. It just isn't necessarily a memory you want them to have.
And the minute we show up sick is the minute we say to everyone else "I'm more important than you. I am more important because you are not good enough to help fill the void I will leave. And I am more important because it doesn't matter if you are sick; it only matters if I am sick. Here, have my disease."
As I mentioned, I missed two due dates because of my surrender to the inevitable. And, you know what? The world didn't come to an end. And neither did my relationship with those who were waiting on me. They knew that quality was more important than an arbitrary date.
And, in spite of having gone on a bit already, I want to squeeze one other lesson out of all this. It's the end of the year; beginning of the next. Let me see a show of hands. How many of you wound up not using all your vacation time? One, two, five, ten, twenty – keep them up, I'm still counting – one hundred, two hundred, sheesh. This is really depressing.
Now ask yourself why you didn't take those days. Answers will be things like "I just didn't have time" or "There was an important due date" or "Everyone else was out on vacation" or "It couldn't get done without me." (Your answer may vary.)
When you get down to it, that last one is at the root of any excuse – the same one you use for why you show up to work when you are sick. "I am the most important person here and all would come to a stop if I were not present." Study after study shows that we all do better work when we take the vacation time we are allotted. Yet, they don't get taken because there is always something important that needs to get done.
And, again, quality suffers
My parting words. There is absolutely nothing so important that you can't take a sick day, can't get vacation planned, can't step away. And the minute you think it will all fall apart without you is the minute you need to check yourself into megalomaniacs anonymous.
So, where are you going on your next vacation? I've got New York on my schedule.