Look Out! The Sneeze Guards are About
The past year has certainly thrown up some challenges and now that we are returning to offices and interacting more closely with each other, it has led to a few tricky situations arising when someone sneezes or coughs at work.
A client recently mentioned that her young son coughed in the supermarket (he swallowed some food too quickly!) and said she was met with glares and some mutterings about COVID from shoppers nearby. At a recent workshop, a participant commented about a team member repeatedly sneezing in the office. That team member suffers from hay fever and hadn’t taken an antihistamine drug that day. No-one in their team knew what to say or how to broach the questions on everyone’s mind at the time – “Have they had a COVID test? Should they go home? Who is monitoring this?”
A year or so ago we would have all been expecting people to take cold, flu or hay fever medications and deal with it themselves. In fact, we have sometimes been encouraged to go to work as it’s “just a cold” and in many workplaces stoicism over minor illness was viewed as a badge of honour. With the advent of COVID-19 all that has had to change and many of us now realise that in the past we have probably spread germs far and wide by working when a little unwell. Now we are being asked to stay home with even the slightest symptom and get tested.
What is required from organisations in this pandemic is for people leaders to agree and promote protocols for physically working together. This includes regularly reminding everyone of the importance of keeping themselves and their colleagues healthy through keeping safe distances, regular hand sanitising, temperature checks (as appropriate) and in particular stressing the need for any employee who feels sick to stay home and, if necessary, get tested for COVID-19. If this hasn’t happened in your workplace, you could ask your people leader to discuss it at a team meeting.
“I’m not currently aware of the protocols in terms of office sickness. It’s a bit unsettling and I’d like to discuss and agree on the team’s approach to illness. My suggestion is that if we have any symptoms, even if someone thinks it’s just hay fever or a cold, we get tested for COVID and then be supported to stay home until we are better no matter the result? Can we discuss this at the next team meeting?”
However, what if your colleagues haven’t been following these guidelines or you are worried about their coughs and sneezes in the office. If you know them well and generally have a good relationship with them, you could constructively observe they don’t seem well and provide some suggestions on what they could do.
“Jay it seems you have been sneezing a lot today. I know it’s a sensitive time right now sickness wise, are you feeling OK? Perhaps speak to Gisella (People Leader) about working from home until you feel better.”
“Chris I am worried about that cough of yours. Do you feel OK? How about you head off home and get yourself better? It’s important to be safe and follow health guidelines.”
If you don’t feel comfortable raising it with your colleague yourself then you can take your concerns to your Team Leader/Supervisor/Manager or Human Resources and ask them to intervene.
“Kerry has been working really hard since we returned to working in the office and seems unwell, sneezing and coughing. It’s worrying me he could be infecting others in the team. Please can Kerry be asked to work from home until he is no longer coughing and sniffling?
These can feel like awkward conversations, however it is important to raise and resolve these issues to ensure bad feelings and misunderstandings do not arise among team members. COVID-19 has taken our personal and professional lives into new and unchartered territories, however when navigating these situations, it is important to implement the fundamentals of tough conversations and approach all situations with empathy.
And if you have any doubts about yourself, colleagues or your team follow the government guidelines and inform your colleagues of your actions, this will help build a good COVID-Safe work culture.
Tags: change, communication, covid-19, dealing with difficult situations, emotional intelligence, feedback, Government, leadership, Public Sector Service, risk analysis, team, uncertainty, Working in Public Service
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