Be sure to go home if you are sick

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 March, 2008, 12:00am

I was in Hong Kong during the severe acute respiratory syndrome when face masks, alcohol wipes and hand sanitisers were part of our daily lives. Thankfully, life quickly returned to normal. However, the events of the past month with the death of three children and the closure of schools are a reminder of how fragile our health and well-being can be. This week, knowing that some of my friends are still battling the flu, I found myself being thankful for my own health.

How is your health these days? Where is it on your list of priorities? Last month I wanted to attend an American Chamber lunch seminar on health and wellness, but I was too ill. I know I did the right thing by staying at home. When I start getting sick I leave the office as soon as possible. If there are urgent things that really need to be done I will do them from home. Taking a conference call in bed at home is much more comfortable than taking it at the office.

A few weeks ago I was running a workshop for a client. There were at least two people sitting in the session wearing face masks. I just wondered: 'If you are sick enough to wear face masks why are you here? You should be at home.' Even in my own office, there are times when I see my colleagues coughing and looking pale. It is not just for one day, and they are back the next day in the same condition.

From what I see and hear, I know that the 'work at the office while sick' syndrome is prevalent in Hong Kong. If you are sick, go home. No one wants to be around a walking virus because that is how other people get sick and that is probably how I got sick last month.

I was wondering where the root of this 'work at the office while sick' syndrome comes from. There are two main possibilities. The first is that there is too much work that needs to be done and the sick person cannot be spared. Some people fall into this category but, with laptop computers and USB memory sticks, if needed you can take your work home. The other explanation could be that people feel pressured to stay at the office. I think many of us fall into the last category.

If we are honest we do not do what is best because we are afraid of what others may think. This is what is called the fear of man. We feel the need to prove something, which is why people feel pressured to work later than the boss or will continue to work at the office even when they are coughing.

When I was much younger, I cared a lot about what other people thought of me. Not that I am completely free of other people's opinions, and we still need to care, but would you not agree that you are essentially living life for the benefit of others? I do not have all the answers on how we break our fear of man, or the space to share about how I started breaking away from it, but it is an issue and I hope it is something you will take the courage to be honest about in how it affects your work, health and life overall.

Ji-Ye Hwang is a senior consultant with Hewitt Associates, a global HR consulting and outsourcing company. She is the lead consultant for employee engagement for Hewitt in Greater China. Her views are not necessarily endorsed by Hewitt Associates.