Why you get sick at a new job – and how to stop it
You’ve just settled into a new job, determined to make a great first impression. But your plans to grab the bull by the horns are thrown completely out the window after you’re hit by a debilitating flu and you find yourself calling in sick not two weeks into the job.
Well, that’s what happened to me recently.
Since starting at The Juice Daily my days have been filled with healthy tips and endless ways of bettering myself and my lifestyle. But nothing prepared me for the dreaded NOC or “New Office Cold”.
You’ve probably heard of the New Office Cold, maybe even experienced it yourself. But on the off-chance you haven’t, the theory behind the NOC is this: when you start a new job, you will inevitably get sick.
This is because your body is exposed to new germs, new viruses, new bacteria, new people… basically, a brand new environment and micro-climate.
But is there any scientific basis to this old wive’s tale or am I simply a bit of a hypochondriac?
Sanjaya Senanayake, Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases at the Australian National University, admits that while he hasn’t come across this concept himself there may be a grain of truth behind it.
“One possibility is that the people in a new office might be a different population to the previous workplace for example, there may be more parents with young children who bring their kids’ viral infections to work. Therefore, you are suddenly being exposed to more viruses than in a previous work setting, hence you become sick.”
The “burn out” effect
Another possibility behind the NOC is that, in all the thrill of starting a new job, we forget to take care of ourselves.
That first week in your new role can be as stressful as it is exciting, with new systems and procedures to learn while pushing yourself to produce the best work possible from the get-go. Add to this the pressure of tying up any loose ends during the final weeks at your old workplace and you can easily reach a point of mental and physical exhaustion.
This experience can also lead to an increased presence of the stress hormone cortisol, resulting in a weakening of your immune system as it battles inflammation and other side-effects of cortisol imbalance. All of which leaves you more susceptible to things such as colds, flus and any other virus that may be floating around your new ‘hood.
Short of taking a week off between jobs and treating yourself to a well-earned rest, there are a few things you can do to help mitigate the impact of these stress-related symptoms including the NOC.
- Make the effort to get outside and move about – maintaining regular exercise has been shown to keep the immune system strong and help battle colds or flu.
- Eat well – the temptation to succumb to cheap and easy takeaway can sometimes get the best of us, especially if we’re tired and can’t be bothered cooking. Keeping your diet stacked with fresh vegetables and fruit will provide you with a steady flow of vitamins to keep you feeling your best.
- Take time to relax – says it all really.
You could be tempted to invest in preventive remedies that promise everything from boosting your immune system to re-aligning your chi. But you’d be better off spending your money on a massage and organic groceries.
“The beneficial role of non-medical treatments like vitamin C, zinc and echinacea is marginal at best. There is no magical cure for a cold,” says Senanayake.
And lastly, if you do find yourself succumbing to the snotty grip of the NOC, do yourself and your colleagues a favour – bite the bullet and stay home. No-one will think less of you for being genuinely sick and frankly, no-one else wants to catch it.
“Although we all still soldier on when we have a cold and come to work, it may be more sensible and less risky to your colleagues to stay at home.”
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