Want To Fight H1N1? Change Your Company Culture

I have been inundated with e-mails regarding the H1N1 flu virus that is sweeping the world. Whatever I did to get on these lists, I appreciate the reminder that living in a state of physical isolation helps insulate me from all of your petty diseases. For those of us who don’t have that option though, what can you do to fight the disease? If you’re in the working world, the answer is simple:

Change Your Company Culture

Why? In many companies, the stigma of calling in sick (or worse, calling in with kids sick) is incredibly strong. Strong enough to compel even the most disgustingly sick to try to “stick it out” and “give it a go.” When their manager sees them, they say something along the lines of “Thanks for at least trying to come in. You can go home now.” Thanks for trying? Like it is a good thing to try to soldier through illness and expose your workforce to potential harm?

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

h1n1 two

Is your company paying lip service to this little guy?

If your company is actually serious about stopping the threat of H1N1 (or any easily communicable disease), they would do the following:

  1. Provide a generous sick time allowance so people don’t have to choose between working sick or not paying the bills.
  2. Allow work from home whenever possible and get systems set up to accommodate it now.
  3. Don’t allow anyone to work sick, discourage it from the top down and lead by example at every. single. turn.
  4. Punitive measures for parents of sick children? Now your crappy policies impact daycare providers and other caretakers.
  5. Advise managers on identifying warning signs and teach them how to balance workloads.
  6. Understand the impact that forcing a sick person into work can have (hint: this person can get your healthy employees sick)

Not doing all of these? Then you’re paying lip service and are part of the problem.

And really, this goes for any communicable illness like the annual seasonal flu. Poor policy making on the part of companies or poorly conceived company cultures have caused millions of hours of lost productivity in the workplace. All because we couldn’t stand to lose 16-40 hours of productivity from a single employee.

And why do we do things this way? So we can prevent a few abusers of the system? Employees that do that are, at least in my experience, already poor performers who should be managed up or out. Here’s the real question: why are you still employing these losers? Drop them.

Now even as an individual employee, you can follow the CDC’s advice to the letter and still get in trouble because the company’s culture hasn’t shifted.  You can either see your career prospects plummet as a sickly or needy employee or you can actually get the same disease from your co-workers who are trying to stick it out. That’s why it is a company wide thing. That’s why it is a culture thing. Are you ready to get on board?

4 thoughts on “Want To Fight H1N1? Change Your Company Culture

  1. I’m a very low level manager and I’m currently at work with a chest cold. I was here yesterday with a low fever. I obviously do not feel comfortable calling in sick.

    I like that you direct your message to the highest level executives. You’re right, they need to set the example first. And as long as politics and favoritism is not abundant, that should lead the way to a better corporate culture.

  2. I’m a huge advocate of #2. When people are sick, it doesn’t mean they can’t work. For preventative reasons, sick people shouldn’t come into the office, but they should always be given the opportunity to be productive from home.

    A few times when I’ve called in sick it was because of the hassle involved in getting ready for work with a cold (tissues, cough drops, various meds), the long commute while sick, and/or fearing I’d get other sick. When I had the option to work from home while sick I stayed productive, fought through the entire day, and kept my team healthy.

    Loved this post, Lance.

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