With cold and flu season in full swing, we are all on high alert to prevent the spread of illness-causing germs. Here are some tips for navigating the flu season in the most courteous manner.
If you’re sick, or have a temperature, stay home. There are those rare few that can carry a temperature and not feel bad. If you are obviously not well, or continuously sneezing, sniffling and blowing, do yourself (and your colleagues) a favor and get some rest. The world may not stop for a runny nose, but if it involves chills, aches or a high temperature, make an appointment to see your doctor.
Know how to deflect a handshake when necessary. Your ability to bypass a handshake greeting will vary from person to person, depending on your relationship. For example, if your feverish brother attempts to grab you by both hands, you can say, “I love you to the moon but I’m going to wait to touch you until you are fever free.” You can avoid shaking hands with a casual acquaintance by saying, “I am fighting off a cold and will feel more comfortable offering you an imaginary high five!” If a client extends his or her hand to greet you, think carefully before refusing a professional handshake. You can always excuse yourself to the restroom to wash your hands, or you can say, “Pardon me for not shaking your hand during this terrible flu season. I have a compromised immune system and I am following doctor’s orders.” Of course, it needs to be the truth!
Sneeze thoughtfully. There are basically two acceptable ways to sneeze: into a tissue (preferably two) or into the crook of your arm. Recycling is great, but not when it comes to tissues. Throw it away when you’ve used it, don’t stash it and pull it out again five minutes later. Avoid sneezing into your open hands, and if you must, excuse yourself immediately to sanitize your hands. Also, keep your desk and work area free from soiled tissue.
Blow your nose discreetly. If you feel the need for a major nose blowing session, excuse yourself to the restroom. Avoid blowing your nose in the presence of others whenever possible. If a runny nose has you reaching for the tissues every five minutes, either try to work from home or keep a box of tissues and hand sanitizer within arm’s reach at all times and wash your hands as much as possible.
Diplomatically avoid a hug. If you see a friend and they open their arms for a hug, if you are sick, graciously avoid spreading your germs. When they move in with arms outstretched, hold up both hands with a polite smile and explain the situation: “Forgive me for not hugging you, but I don’t want to take any chances of getting you sick. I am recovering from a cold.” Notice, I don’t recommend saying “fighting off” a cold, as it infers you still have it.
Reschedule meetings or get-togethers with those who may be sick. Reschedule meetings when you are ill. Even if you are able to work, you will be more impressive when your nose is unstuffed and you are not sneezing or coughing in front of a new business prospect.
Work alongside sick colleagues…from a distance. How should you work with people who are obviously sick? Hopefully others will follow these rules themselves. But, if you are working across the table from someone who is clearly ill, try your best to remove yourself from the situation: “I can see you are not feeling well. I suggest we brainstorm by telephone, or plan a follow up meeting another time.” If this isn’t possible, keep a box of tissues handy and kindly invite others to use them: “I know everyone here at the office is worried about getting sick, so please help yourself to a tissue if you need to cough or sneeze.”
Allergies or contagious illness? Don’t take chances. We all know people who swear their low-grade temperatures, hacking coughs and runny noses are the result of allergies, and not a cold. While they may not be contagious, it is fair to politely ask to postpone a lunch or meeting: “It is in everyone’s best interest to reschedule our meeting until the group is feeling 100 percent.”
For more tips on how to handle flu season read my Huffington Post article, Office Flu Etiquette.