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I'm tired of covering for my colleagues who have sick children

Dear Corporate Governess
The flu season hit my office hard this year, and once again, the employees who have kids took the most time off — and also once again, the singletons picked up the slack. Any ideas on how this might be handled more fairly?
—Josie M., Toronto

Dear Josie
Really? You think you should be rewarded for covering for colleagues who were stuck watching The Smurfs for the 14th time with a feverish, whining child? The reality is that parents with young children do need more time off. Their kids are walking petri dishes for viruses and bacteria that they share at school and daycare — and then at home. Singletons miss out on this, and unless they've experienced a night with a two-year-old projectile vomiting across a room, they may not understand what parents go through.

When kids get sick, parents have to keep them at home. Then there are doctors' appointments, night runs to emergency, and the sinking realization that they've never had the measles. Even the most organized parent doesn't have a foolproof plan for every occasion, so, yes, healthier colleagues need to help out. Is it fair? Not really, but it's what we do as team players. It tapers off as kids get older. But I sincerely hope the parents in your office show their appreciation — an unexpected latte, work favour or diamond-studded halo would go a long way as a thank you.

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You can also ask your boss if you can take the occasional personal day to make it up, maybe even with a spa gift certificate. You'll feel better about those late nights after an invigorating mud wrap — even if it's the parents who need it most.

Dear Corporate Governess
I've been assigned to work on a major project with a colleague whom I dislike. My manager is aware of our past issues, so I don't know what he's thinking.
—Jackson M., Vancouver

Dear Jackson
It might be a lapse of judgment, or he could be toying with you, but there could be another reason: You two may be the best for the job. In any case, he possibly feels it's time to get over yourselves. If the animosity is tainting the workplace, the upshot may be that one of you has to go — and this could be the test. I'd put on a good face and tackle the challenge head-on. To help, I asked Marilynne Madigan, managing partner and HR strategist at Morneau Shepell in Toronto, for some coping techniques. To start off, she suggests "you need to step up, acknowledge there's an issue, and get focused on the project and what you're trying to achieve. In these situations, one person has to take the lead to come to some agreement, shared accountability and ownership on the project. Don't make it personal."

To stay calm, Madigan advises focusing on the outcome and dealing with things as they come up. If you momentarily lose your cool, her mantra is, "Pause, pause and check in with yourself on how you feel about something and, if need be, remove yourself." Also be very candid with your colleague about your feelings. "The give and take is critical," says Madigan. "If you can't go in with that, it won't be successful."

You should also be open to changing your mind about your colleague. Think of those classic movies where Meg Ryan ends up bedding her enemy. There's always a softer side.

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