It’s not something I’ll ever have etched on my headstone but I’ve always been quietly pleased with my work-attendance record. Granted, admitting that leaves me feeling 3 per cent more pathetic than I did five seconds ago. But hey, two days off sick over the course of 10 years is nothing to be sniffed at.
That said, I’ve been doing lots of sniffing recently having developed a cold at the weekend. You can probably still hear it in my voice (unless you’re reading this in Monocolumn form and missing out on my nasally nuanced delivery on The Globalist on Monocle 24). This viral onset annoyed me: one of the other things I’m overly self-satisfied about is how seldom I get colds. But was I going to let this sinus-based setback interfere with my stunning work-attendance record? Certainly not.
So, come Monday morning I was at my desk, pockets stuffed with ragged tissues, dosed up on painkillers and telling anyone who would listen that I had a cold. “What a trooper!”, “Such a hero!” None of my colleagues said either of these things but I could see it in their eyes – they felt it.
Only, of course, they didn’t. Why would they? Sure, stay at home if you have Sars, rabies or leprosy. But a common cold? Pah. Then again, should we really be turning up to work with viral infections? Is there not an argument for tucking yourself up in bed and sparing everyone your coughs and sneezes?
After all, it’s not just one person you’re affecting: before you know it the chap sat next to you has passed it on to his partner, who in turn infects their infant child and suddenly you’ve got a miserable, sleepless family on your conscience.
As I sat at my desk feeling sorry for myself it occurred to me that this stoic desire to come to work when ill might be a uniquely British trait. Perhaps it has been ingrained by centuries of stiff upper lips and the memory of great grandfathers past, who would descend the mines even if they had broken arms and missing toes. So I conducted a five-minute opinion poll among my multinational workmates at Midori House – but the answers all came back the same. Whether you work in Brazil, Canada, Bulgaria, Spain, the US or Australia, a runny nose definitely isn’t a reason to down tools.
Frankly, this is a good thing – if the global workforce failed to clock in at the first sign of a sniffle, the economy would be in a far worse state than it is now. As for being a beacon of contagiousness in the workplace, with the number of people that commuters come into contact with you’re just one potential source of germs in a cast of thousands. So grab some Echinacea, gird your loins and see if you can break my work-attendance record. Actually, don’t – because if you manage it I’ll cry and I’ve run out of tissues.
Dan Poole is chief sub editor for Monocle.