A pedestrian in Surfers Paradise models the season’s must-have wearable: the surgical mask. Picture: Mike Batterham
A pedestrian in Surfers Paradise models the season’s must-have wearable: the surgical mask. Picture: Mike Batterham

Stop sickie-shaming. Office sickos are the worst

It's been one of the perennials of the media landscape since forever: the cost of sickies to the Australian economy.

The story is always the same. Some po-faced beancounter tut-tut-tutting about the collective loss of productivity, and how it jeopardises our international competitiveness, and so on.

It is my ardent wish that I never have to read or watch one of these miserable stories ever again.

Not just because they're repetitive, or generally anti-fun, but because anti-sickie sentiment actually contributes to a much bigger problem: unwell people feeling obliged to drag themselves into the office, where they proceed to cough, wheeze, sneeze and splutter their bugs around, and so entire workplaces succumb.

But it seems that our casual acceptance of such things is changing.

Gone are the days when the sweep of a bug or virus through a workplace was shrugged off as just something that happens.

Hand-sanitising gels have become a staple of many offices. And - have you noticed? - more and more people seem to be using handtowels when opening bathroom doors and the like.

But more needs to be done in this space.

Staff who are genuinely unwell should be encouraged to stay home, either resting completely or working remotely, and this behaviour should be modelled at the very highest levels of companies.

 

The office sicko. She’s the worst. Picture: Istock
The office sicko. She’s the worst. Picture: Istock

 

Sickie-shaming needs to stop, and the anti-social nature of turning up to work when sick should be called out.

For many years, critics have raised concern about the tagline used in Codral ads, "Soldier on", on the basis that the line seems to encourage sick people to go on with their normal day-to-day routines.

The Advertising Standards Board dismissed a complaint about the line back in 2008, and as recently as July, it was being used in a TV commercial starring Guy Sebastian during last year's season of The Voice.

In that ad, the Battle Scars singer tells a young protege in the recording studio that his cold symptoms were now "all under control" but he still intended to be a "fully sick coach".

"Soldier on with Codral," a voiceover says, while text on the screen tells the viewer: "Show up when it matters".

Interestingly, however, the Codral website (codral.com.au) contains absolutely no reference to anybody soldiering on, so maybe the marketing teams have realised that that idea is not a winner in our more vigilant times.

 

Guy Sebastian in a “fully sick” 2019 TV commercial for Codral.
Guy Sebastian in a “fully sick” 2019 TV commercial for Codral.

 

Concern about the spread of disease has never seemed so important. Cases of measles spiked in 2019, thanks in large part to anti-vaxxers, while the death toll and incidence rate of coronavirus grows by the day.

In China, authorities are reportedly using extreme measures to police the spread of coronavirus, with videos showing HAZMAT-suited gangs forcibly removing people who are suspected of having the disease from their homes near Shanghai.

The clips of people being dragged away make for shocking viewing, but there is much about this outbreak that we have never seen before.

The Australian government's response to the virus has in itself been unprecedented, and it is to be commended for it.

At this stage, nobody knows how widespread the coronavirus outbreak will end up being - it may yet up being reasonably contained - but the fact that the number of cases and deaths has now soared past that of SARS must give us all pause.

 

Fears about coronavirus have led to a shortage of hand sanitiser.
Fears about coronavirus have led to a shortage of hand sanitiser.

 

Outbreaks of new viruses have become a fact of modern life. Since the arrival of bird flu in the late 1990s we've had SARS, MERS, a couple of Ebola scares and now coronavirus.

And while there is no suggestion that coronavirus is linked to climate change, the World Health Organisation has warned that changes in infectious disease transmission patterns are a "likely major consequence" of climate change.

If they're right about that and more virus threats are likely in future, it is to be hoped that the authorities will learn valuable lessons from the current coronavirus crisis.

And if coronavirus kills off sickie-shaming, and encourages people to stay home from work if they are feeling at all unwell, then that's a good thing, and long overdue.

 

David Mills is a columnist with RendezView.