Holiday season tracks perfectly with cold and flu season, and if you’ve got little ones, that may mean an increase in sick days to help care for your family. But let’s face it — between the chicken soup runs and the temperature monitoring, there can be a lot of downtime during naps and movie marathons where a flexible work-from-home day might be a better option.
During flu season, nearly 111 million workdays are lost due to illness, equating to approximately $7 billion per year in lost productivity. But before you think about sending everyone back to school and toughing it out, remember that you are doing your company a favor by reducing the number of germs floating around the office. Many of the common office illnesses are contagious, and you don’t want to risk being patient zero for an office-wide flu epidemic.
Flu Season Facts: Stay in the Know
- Flu activity usually peaks December through February.
- On average, 5%–20% of the US population will get the flu each year, resulting in over 200,000 flu-related hospitalizations.
The typical incubation period for the flu is one to four days. Adults can be contagious from the day before symptoms begin and for five to ten more days.
A regular case of the flu typically resolves after three to seven days for most people, although cough and fatigue can persist for more than two weeks.
How to Handle Work When Your Child is Sick
On average, kids get sick about five to six times a year, resulting in parents’ having to either miss work or make some last-minute adjustments to arrange for care. If your job offers you the flexibility of working from home, you may not have to choose between work and caring for your family. Yet, you may be wondering how to be productive at home with sick kids. Here are a few tips on working from home with sick kiddos:
Prioritize your calendar
Review your calendar to identify important meetings and deadlines. Setting priorities for the day will help you identify the key projects that you can work on during downtime, which allows you to focus on taking care of children while not getting overwhelmed by your to-do list.
Save up some personal days
It’s inevitable — your kid is going to get sick a handful of times a year. Use those personal days you’ve been racking up to really dedicate your time and energy to your kids when they need you the most. You’ll feel less anxious about having to take time off, too.
Distribute your workload
You can’t predict what your kid will come down with every time. If you think your child has something that will keep you at home for more than a few days, make sure to notify your team and your boss. You may be able to distribute some of your workload to keep projects on track.
Surround yourself with people who have your back
When you’re juggling caring for a sick kid and getting your work done, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether you’re splitting the caretaking with your spouse or family member or just having your work best friend keep you up to date on the progress of your projects from the office, it’s important to surround yourself with a good support structure.
Research back-up care and know your daycare’s sick policies
If family members aren’t available, take advantage of prescreened babysitters who can be available last minute to lend you a hand. Also take a look at your daycare’s sick-day policies — they might have care facilities, doctors or caretakers that they can recommend to you.
Take time to rest
Caring for sick kids can be exhausting, especially during flu season when it seems like no one is in perfect health, so set aside time to take care of yourself. Getting your family back to healthy while working is no easy feat. Rest up, eat right and drink lots of fluids.
Be transparent and flexible
Emergencies happen, and kids get sick. It’s important to be clear with your teammates and your manager when your kids are sick — not necessarily sharing the nitty-gritty details of the illness but when you’re going to be available to work again. Transparency will help your teammates adjust their expectations or rearrange project priorities accordingly.
Today’s video conferencing technology allows us to work from home without missing important meetings or lowering productivity. Take advantage of it.
Communicating Your Work-from-Home Plan
Don’t let your downtime affect the rest of your team. If anything, they’ll have your back more than anyone, especially when it comes to a project deadline or meeting presentation.
Notify your boss and key colleagues about your plan to work from home and let them know the flexibility you need to take care of your kid. Set expectations for when you’ll be available to work, even if it might not be during the regular 9–5 hours. That way, your team can know exactly what to expect when you’re online and ready to work. Here is an example work-from-home email you can use to notify your team.
Two Tools to Keep You in the Loop While You Work from Home
When you’re working from home, it’s important to stay connected. Here’s how you can stay in the loop at work without having to step foot into the office.
Human germs can’t spread through video. Video conferencing solutions let you maintain face-to-face contact with your team without putting them at risk. Join meetings and collaborate with teammates from home without missing a beat.
Make use of chat tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams to help you stay connected in real time without getting lost in email threads.
Today, more than 60% of families with children have two working parents. And sick days can come out of nowhere. The purpose of this post is not to prioritize working over caring for your family — it’s to call out the enormous benefit of flexible work schedules for unexpected situations. A bout with the flu can last anywhere between three and seven days (and that’s not counting the multiplier of spreading from family member to family member), and while the first two days might require round-the-clock care, I’ve found the recovery days are perfect for flexible work-from-home days that won’t put you weeks behind on your projects at work. I hope these tips can help with your work–life balance, and I hope your little one gets better soon!