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by Cathy Vandewater | March 02, 2012


Flu season's nearly over, but the debate on sick days is just getting warmed up. Revisited legislation on paid sick pay may bring about better working environments for employees at small businesses (those with 5-50 workers).

This is great news for employees who have been trudging to work with the sniffles, or sending their ill kids to school, to avoid having to stay home and miss a paycheck. But so far, the laws are on a state level—with only Seattle, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Massachusetts on board.

Time can only tell how well the new laws fair, and whether they'll spread to states that have previously rejected the legislation, such as New York. Meanwhile, there are ways to conserve the sick days you do have, whether paid or not:

1. Clean Up Your Act

According to Business Insider's infographic on "killer" workplaces, the average keyboard has five times the germs found in a public bathroom. This is bad news any way you cut it, but if you're also having lunch at your desk to conserve working hours, it's horrendous. Don't let a dirty workspace eat your sick days: wipe down your desk, keyboard, and mouse regularly, wash your hands frequently (and always when visiting the restroom and before eating), and keep a bottle of hand sanitizer where you can see it. In sight, in mind!

2. Manage your Stress

1 million workers call in sick to work every day due to stress—and that's not surprising, considering 75% of Americans consider their jobs stressful (and 25% even report that it's the most stressful aspect of their lives).

Conserve your sick days for when you or your child are actually sick, and get proactive about managing your time for better emotional health. End your work days on time, plan vacations and social outings (so you don't blow time off last minute, on impulse), and speak up about your workload or issues with coworkers instead of suffering—and avoiding them--in silence. You won't need to bow out of stressful situations at work if they're being handled appropriately. Ask for back up.

3. Peel Yourself Out of Your Computer Chair

You already know that sedentary jobs are bad news for your health, but that doesn't mean there's nothing you can do about it. Get up and move around at least once an hour, pencil in trips to the gym like they're work meetings (292,345,090 Americans don't get even the minimum amount of recommended exercise for good health), and try not to park in front of the TV after work. The more moving hours you can spend post-office, the lower your risk of obesity—a condition that's linked with all kinds of health problems.

4. Socialize

Simply put, the mood boosts associated with interacting with others are booth good for your immune system and your stress levels. Again, step away from the computer as much as possible during work, and head to happy hour (not your TV room) when the day's over.

While you're at it, be sure to clock in a few hours with your SO too. Studies have shown that as far as major life regrets go, we tend to agonize much more over failed relationships than career mishaps. So work on yours now—and spare yourself three days of "sick time" spent nursing a breakup later.

5. Get Proactive About Your Working Environment

42% of workers report yelling and verbal abuse as "common" at the office, whereas 10% have encountered physical violence caused by stress. That's super scary—and it goes without saying that such toxic work environments are a source of potentially debilitating stress.

If it this sounds like your workplace, take action—report any physical or verbal abuse immediately, and even consider getting a new job. The stress may be doing much more damage than the job is worth.

Sick time may be out of your hands at the moment, but your health is very much your concern. Make sure you're putting it first.

--Cathy Vandewater,

Read More:
Your Office Job May Be Killing You (Business Insider)
Debate Over Sick Leave Intensifies (Wall Street Journal)


Filed Under: Workplace Issues