I manage about 10 people in my mid-level position at a large institution (happens to an non-academic administrative position at a public university in the US, if that's relevant). I think I am generally well-liked by those I manage but tend to be pretty "by the book" when it comes to documenting problems and discipline, which has created a little distance with some of those I manage.

Recently (last wednesday) I was working despite being fairly sick with what I think was Norovirus or E. Coli, and had an unfortunate incident at work. I tried to be a hero, worked while I was probably too sick, and was not straightforward with the fact that I was feeling under the weather. Without putting to fine a point on it, let's just say there was an involuntary expulsion from my body while in my office. This occurred during a meeting with two of the people I manage. I had to end the meeting immediately and excuse myself to the bathroom. I will not go into detail, but it was not at all subtle and others in our office area were aware of the evidence of the situation.

When I returned from the bathroom, everybody stopped talking so I could see the office was already abuzz talking about the incident. I went home sick the rest of the day and on Thursday and Friday, and intend to return on Monday.

I am concerned about being able to command respect from those I manage after such an incident and am seeking advice on how to properly handle this from a managerial perspective. Do I say nothing and act like it never happened? Make a joke? Seek a transfer to another department?

Any advice is appreciated.

  • 6
    I'd say that you should just act like it never happened. But on another note you shouldn't be working when sick. That's not a great decision, especially as a manager.
    – midfield99
    Mar 19, 2017 at 0:56
  • 1
    @midfield99, Your recommendation is well-taken, and I certainly learned my lesson. But, of course, sometimes things just really need to get done and that modifies your evaluation of what defines "too sick to work", particularly in a salaried position where you're paid to complete a task (not just put in a certain number of hours). Knowing how unmanageable it becomes if you miss a lot of time, that lends itself to a mentality that makes you feel compelled to work unless you're basically hospitalized. It's a sad reality of many people's jobs.
    – manager
    Mar 19, 2017 at 1:23
  • 2
    You work with adults. These things happen. Next time someone else tries to be a hero, tell them to go home.
    – SPavel
    Mar 19, 2017 at 1:50
  • 4
    You don't "command" respect you just move on. Not that big a deal.
    – paparazzo
    Mar 19, 2017 at 3:01
  • 3
    If your company can't handle you being out for one day to recover from a minor sickness, something is very, very wrong with your company.
    – Erik
    Mar 19, 2017 at 8:53

4 Answers 4


With all due respect to the previous commenters: @manager, you're not overthinking this, these things don't just happen, this is a big deal, and no you can't just move on like nothing happen. You shit your pants at work for crying out loud, in front of people you manage, and the whole office knows about it.

What you need to do first thing tomorrow morning is call a meeting with those you manage. You need to discuss this matter, explain what happened, and answer any questions they have. Get it all out in the open. After this frank and open discussion, any further discussion of this episode should rightfully be considered insubordination, and you should absolutely not tolerate it.

In no uncertain terms, you should banish any mention of this event in the future. The first time it is mentioned, issue one stern warning. After that, you begin writing people up, or whatever the analog is in your workplace. Repeated discussion of what must be one of the most humiliating moments of your professional career should be considered bullying and you should treat it as such. Let people know that you will absolutely not hesitate to escalate disciplinary action to whatever level is necessary.

  • I appreciate your acknowledgement that this really is a problem and not acting like it's somehow just in my head, as most other comments and answers in this thread have done. I want to preempt any further problems with this issue and I think a tough but fair policy like this could be fruitful. Thank you for your firm, confident, and authoritative response.
    – manager
    Mar 20, 2017 at 1:49
  • 8
    @manager It is a serious situation, but this approach will likely lead people to further lose respect for you. People are going to talk about it more if you call them in to a formal meeting about it. More still if you end up reprimanding someone. I know it's embarrassing, but sometimes it's better to swallow your pride and move on. It's better to be the guy who had a moment of humility than to be the a**hole who crapped his pants and then made a stink about it. (Pardon the pun, but let's be realistic)
    – apaul
    Mar 20, 2017 at 2:06
  • 2
    @manager, while NoNonsense is right that this incident is very out of the ordinary, this is terrible advice. Attempting to "reassert your strength" in this way will totally eradicate any good feeling that your staff have for you. Trust that "being well-liked" will translate to most people feeling bad for you and hoping only that you are well and you are recovered. Just take it on the chin for a few days and move on like everyone else will.
    – Dancrumb
    Mar 20, 2017 at 3:02
  • 1
    @Criggie I do not think it is a bad idea, it is just a controversial solution.
    – Tom Sawyer
    Mar 20, 2017 at 11:43
  • 2
    Tackling the issue head on is a valid strategy, but it needs to be approached carefully. Dragging everybody into a meeting and demanding that it never be spoken of again will do nothing but cause ill feeling, since it presupposes a serious lack of judgment on the part of the rest of your team.
    – timbstoke
    Mar 20, 2017 at 14:27

The root of humiliation is humility...

It's an unfortunate situation, but try to be humble about the whole thing. If you overhear any further discussion about the matter laugh it off.

Also... self deprecating humor can go a long way in taking the wind out of peoples jokes about it.

Let them laugh with you rather than at you.

"Well, I really shouldn't have trusted that <insert humorous food item> and I really, really should have called in... let that be a lesson to all of you... Move along, nothing to see here."


You are overthinking this.

You was ill. People understand that. A few days time it will be yesterdays news.

Do not worry.

They will respect the fact you tried to go to work.

  • 9
    I would not respect someone who came in to work sick. He could be infectueus and cause other people to be sick next week.
    – Erik
    Mar 19, 2017 at 8:54
  • @erik, It must be nice to have to privilege of deciding that someone who comes to work "sick" -- without qualifying what "sick" even means -- doesn't deserve respect. I would not respect someone who calls off work every time they have a sinus headache or had trouble sleeping. And, no, a stomach bug (e.g. E. coli) is not infectious as long as everyone washes their hands. Get informed before you judge. Of course, I wish it were more feasible to miss work whenever I didn't feel 100%, but that's not a luxury most people have if they want have any chance of staying on top of things.
    – manager
    Mar 19, 2017 at 21:02
  • 2
    @manager everyone has the privilege to decide what behavior they do or do not respect.
    – Erik
    Mar 19, 2017 at 21:54

Take it as it comes

In this particular situation, I wouldn't be pro-active in dealing with what happens. Rather than eliciting a scenario to discuss this, just wait until someone brings it up, then deal with that.

  • People will either ignore it, or bring it up. If they ignore it, then they have no real problem with it; if they bring it up, then it's a large enough impact on them that they need to discuss it.

  • Drawing people into a discussion about this can make it more uncomfortable for them.

I suggest you walk into the office with a friendly smile, allowing those who need to discuss this to approach you. If no one does, then ignore it.
Most likely, people will come up to you with concern and ask you "Are you ok? How are you feeling?", or will understand that it's not their business, and will leave it be.


Your management can then continue to work the way it always has; Business as Usual. If you notice people undermining you, then deal with that as you normally would. Most likely, people will notice that the train is moving as it always has, and will continue to work the way they always have.

There will be a guaranteed change in people's thought process, but it will be undertoned and not overt.

Clear the landing strip

On another note, make sure that the place is safe to work in, a quick wipe-down of the affected surfaces will prevent the spread of whatever you had and will allow people to rest assured that this will not affect them.

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