Sick days

It was release planning week.  We’d scheduled five days straight of nine-to-five meetings, with plans to revisit our team’s ground rules, reflect on the two-year process which had taken us to release one, look at the road map for the next five years, decide what our short- and mid-term goals were, and figure out which tasks should be our next priorities.  We’d flown several of our international team members to the States to get them in our time zone and in the room.  We had energy and momentum and enthusiasm.

And I was coming down with something.

I made it through Monday without any problems, but by Tuesday I had the tell-tale burning in the back of my throat which meant a bad cold was on it’s way.  I spent Wednesday chugging orange juice and decongestants.  By Thursday, I knew that I was really sick, and I had a decision to make.  Did I stick it out, or did I admit that I was sick and stay home to recover?

We all like to think of ourselves as indispensable, to believe that if we don’t show up to work on any given day, the wheels will grind to a halt, the building will catch fire and no one will know what to do, and the entire economy will collapse.  The terrorists will win.  The reality is that if you are legitimately that important to your team, you are not doing your job properly.  Handling crises is short-term thinking.  Making sure there are multiple people who can handle any crisis is long-term thinking.  Long-term thinking is how you work towards the future health and success of a company.

In my situation, it was less about indispensability and more about loss of control.  If I missed part of release planning, I wouldn’t get to have input into our goals.  I wouldn’t get to cast my yes or no vote on whether we were pushing too hard.  Worse, I wouldn’t get to hear the debate and have a chance to influence others to my way of thinking.  How much did I trust my teammates to have my back, to hear the same information that I would and make the best decisions for the team?

The answer for me was “not as much as I should have.”  I went to work on Thursday, despite the sickness.  I pushed through, unable to work nearly as well as I would have liked.  Since I was sick, I didn’t have much valuable input.  Instead, I sat in a small enclosed space with my coworkers, spreading germs and feeling miserable, and added very little to the discourse.  By Friday, it was no longer a choice: I could not go in, because by not taking care of myself, I had made myself much sicker than I needed to.  Weeks later, I am still paying for my decision to ignore my body’s needs.

I talk a lot about trusting my teammates, about being willing to let small groups of people make decisions for the team as a whole and then having faith in those decisions.  When it came down to it, however, I had a hard time stepping away from the whole team and letting the plan evolve without my input.

Do you have a hard time taking sick days at work?  Why do you feel like you can’t stay away?

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