FUNNY BUSINESS: Being your own boss doesn't save you from idiots

November 20, 2006

I work at home. Well, I call it work, but really it's just sitting around making fun of things. Which is the same "job" description I used when I "worked" (boy, this is going to date me) at what used to be known as The Daily Newspaper. Nowadays, it's The Manually Delivered User Operated Lifestyle Enhancement Information Platform.

Anyway, the good thing about doing whatever I do at home is that I'm free from the tyrannies of the workplace-meetings, idiot bosses, neckties, idiot bosses, shaving and, of course, idiot bosses.

The problem is, I have to impose tyrannies of my own. It takes discipline to get anything done in an environment where you don't have to shave or change out of your jammies, where there's a refrigerator and a television close at hand, where the dog is always asking for a walk and eBay is always beckoning with new bargains. However, the trade-off is worth it. Especially the idiot-boss tradeoff.

That said, there remain some drawbacks. In fact, I'm right in the middle of one such drawback right now. It's called seasonal flu.

Even as I write, I'm shivering from a fever of about 102. My throat is sore and my head feels like it's full of rubber cement. My joints ache, as if someone came during the night and bent them all the wrong direction, and I'm rattling the windows with gale-force sneezes and a cough that brings to mind a tubercular seal. In short, I am a mess. Poor, poor pitiful me.

When I worked-OK, when I ventured outside the home every day to do something that resulted in a paycheck-I could stay home when I felt like this. Not now. You can't stay home from home. And so, if you're me, you end up going to work, or whatever you call it, despite the fact that you have to lash yourself into your chair to stay upright.

Why? Why not just go to bed? Good question.

For starters, there's guilt. I'm a Hoosier country boy, the product of people who worked like mules every day of their lives, sweating and toiling through blistering heat and bone-numbing cold. These were people who, when they had heart attacks from baling hay in the broiling sun, sat down in the shade a few minutes, drank some iced tea, then finished loading the wagon before heading off to the doctor.

So I already felt guilty for working indoors, in the air-conditioning, with no heavy lifting involved. And this feeling was compounded when I quit my job to free-lance. The result? Guilt now figures larger than ever in my work life. It has become my main motivator, the thing that gets me up and gets me going every day. And guilt, my friends, NEVER takes a sick day.

And then there's the question of economics. It costs money to be sick, and seasonal flu is more than a case of the sniffles when you start looking at what it can cost American business.

A little trolling around on the Internet turned up an estimate of $87 billion for seasonal flu's annual economic burden. That's a lot of Robitussin and chicken soup.

Flu-or what they call "Influenza-Like Illnesses" to take into account all the other epizootics flying around out there-is responsible for an estimated 200 million days of diminished productivity, 100 million days of bed disability, and 75 million days of work absence every year. Lost earnings are in the $16.3 billion neighborhood.

Now, I'm not saying that what I do, or don't do, is going to make much of a difference against those kinds of numbers. As near as I can tell, taking into account all my receivables and payables and amortizations and other business-type words, my missing a day of work costs the national economy about $1.40.

But that figure for diminished productivity intrigues me. I'm told it comes in great measure from presenteeism, also known as "coming to work and making sure to sneeze on everyone around you."

We've all seen it: Flu raging through the cubicle farms, workers flinging germs and viruses around with such abandon that the bosses actually start asking sick employees to PLEASE stay home. The non-idiot bosses, I mean.

Seeing as how I am my own boss, and as how I made myself work today, I guess we know what that makes me. Oops. Excuse me. I'm going back to bed.

Redmond is an author, columnist and speaker, and a consultant on business writing and workplace issues. His column appears monthly. You can reach him at mredmond@ibj.com.
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