"Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru." -- Charlotte Joko Beck

Saturday, September 6, 2014

What example do you set?

I had an important reminder recently that there are more important things than whatever is going on at the office.

I always stress to others about the importance of work-life balance, and to take care of the most important things first – especially their own health. If people aren’t feeling well, I send them home. If something is left undone because they are sick, it can either wait or someone else can pick it up.
So, I should have known better when I came down with a sore throat a couple of weeks ago.  In my mind there were things I had to do, so I still went to work. I didn’t take time to slow down. I didn’t even exercise a telework option, when certainly those things that I was convinced I was absolutely the only person who could do, could have been done from home. But I got up, got dressed and went into the office sounding like Froggy from the original Little Rascals. I sounded worse than I felt, or so I thought.

The sore throat turned into a full-blown head cold.  Nothing overly debilitating, so I took some over-the-counter stuff, hit the Vitamin C for a few days, and continued on. The head cold migrated to my chest, and still I was going in to work. When I was home, I continued to work on some hot deadline projects for the office. I even wound up working two out of the three days of Labor Day weekend. I was able to do that because I shared my cold with my wife, so with both of us sick, we cancelled our social plans and were home anyway.

Tuesday morning, as I got onto the commuter bus, I felt like a truck hit me. I had no energy, and was struggling to breathe without coughing. And I was sweating, but surely it was because it was so hot and humid that day.
When I arrived at the office, several people took the time to tell me that I looked and sounded like crap. But I toughed it out and stayed at work for most of the day. After much cajoling, I did ultimately leave about an hour earlier than usual, and stopped at the urgent care clinic on the way home.

Good thing I did.
Diagnosis: severe bronchitis and early stages of pneumonia!

Lesson learned. I took the next day off and rested, took my meds, and have been taking it easy ever since. There were a few small things that others were relying on me to do my part of, so I did work on those couple of items from home, but mostly I rested.
Pneumonia is nothing to fool around with. Things could have gone much worse. But there is more to this than ignoring my own health for the sake of a few projects that several other people could have done.

Contagion is a significant issue, especially with flu season coming up in the near future, so we need to look beyond our own selves and think about the health of others. This is why health officials encourage people to stay home. No work would get done at all if the whole office gets sick! With my bronchitis, there obviously was potential to infect others, since I had already gotten my wife sick. Thankfully hers never progressed past a basic head cold because she was smart enough to rest over the weekend.
But there is even more to this than the contagion factor and the potential to get others sick. There is the example I was setting.  

It’s the same example we set when we send emails late at night or on weekends, or while we’re on vacation. I know one senior manager who seems to live on his Blackberry and sends email day and night, weekends, holidays, and everything. He also calls people at home or on their cell phones. He claims that he doesn’t really want to bother people when they are off, but he wants to relate info before he forgets it.
It sounds so innocent, doesn’t it. All we’re doing is showing a dedication to our work. Not letting a minor illness keep us from doing our jobs. Not neglecting work when we’re not there. Just a dedicated employee who cares about the organization and it’s mission. Right?

Our behavior influences those around us. If we come to work when we are sick, placing work as a priority above our own health, we are setting an example. If we don’t take time off – really off – we are establishing a standard.

People will believe that we expect them to do the same. It sets up an office atmosphere where employees feel pressured to show up for work no matter what. They feel guilty if they don’t put work ahead of everything else, including their families or even their own health.
This makes for a very uncomfortable and unhealthy environment.

Surely we don’t really expect our folks to be working when they are off, and certainly don’t want them to come to work if they are sick. But what was the unintentional example I set when I dragged myself into the office?
When I look back at the best leaders I ever worked with, they made it very clear that health and family were the priority. They took time off themselves. After hours, they were off the clock, unless there was a true emergency. And they never came into the office when they were sick!

We cannot promote a healthy work-life balance for our fellow employees if we do not walk the talk ourselves.