Ask LH: How Can I Deal With Sick Colleagues?

Dear Lifehacker, I have a colleague who always comes into work sick, resulting in a number of my other colleagues getting sick (including me). We work in a smallish office. Do you have any ideas on how to deal with sick people in the office? Thanks, Sick Of Sick Colleagues

Sick colleague picture from Shutterstock

Dear SOSC,

Eternally-sick colleague syndrome comes into play when someone decides that the importance of the tasks which they have to perform matters far more than the health of anyone else. That can signify a broader problem with the office culture, but it can also mean nothing more than a slightly self-important individual. Either way, the tactics needed to deal with the issue are the same.

Since this is a recurring problem, the time for subtlety is over. The next time your colleague arrives at work and is self-evidently sick, point it out loudly. This doesn’t mean attacking them: take the line of “You’re too sick to work effectively, and there’s a risk you’ll pass on what you have to everyone else. Go home and rest and you’ll be more productive in the long run.” Making that statement openly also gives other staff the chance to chime in as well, so it doesn’t look like an individual attack.

If you’re really not comfortable with direct confrontation, raise the issue with your own manager. After all, if you get sick, your own output will suffer, which is something that should concern your boss. In a smaller business context, chances are your manager is also in charge of the over-keen and frequently-ill individual. Some people figure that martyring themselves and working while ill will score brownie points; if it’s pointed out that their behaviour won’t have that effect, changes can be rapid.

Broader changes to the office environment can also help deal with the issue. If working from home is an option, suggest that: it’s hard to pass on the flu via email. Make sure your own diet is healthy and that you get regular exercise; if you’re unfit, you’ll be more susceptible to passing bugs. And don’t neglect the importance of hygiene basics — make sure you wash your hands regularly for starters.

This is a common workplace problem: if Lifehacker readers have additional tactics they’ve used successfully, we’d love to hear them. Good luck and stay healthy!


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