Before I became self-employed, I was one of those people who always went to work. Didn’t matter if I had bronchitis, strep throat, or newly broken toes (all true stories). Unless I was literally so sick that I couldn’t get out of my bed without puking, I was at work attempting to do my job. And I was an idiot.
I don’t know why our society is so obsessed with work. Maybe it’s the whole bootstrap philosophy or maybe we’re all just desperate to win at something, but in my former workplace, banked sick time and working while sick were badges of honor. “I haven’t taken a sick day since 1999.” “Oh, really? Well I came to work with my small intestine hanging out! Beat that!”
I was just as much a part of that as anyone else. When I left my job, had my employer paid out my accrued sick time (most don’t), it would have been equivalent to nearly two months’ salary. And I had only worked there for 3 years. I don’t get sick very often, but when I think back over those three years, it’s obvious that I should have used much more sick time than I did.
Why Would You Work When You Feel Like Crap?
There are tons of reasons why I used to go to work even though I would have been better off resting at home. Just a few of them:
I didn’t want to get behind on my work. As a therapist, my job wasn’t really something that could wait until I got back. Any time I missed work, appointments had to be rescheduled, clients were inconvenienced, and my coworkers had to fill in for me if there was an emergency. I can’t stand the feeling of putting my responsibilities off on someone else, and I hate trying to catch back up once I’m behind.
I didn’t want people to resent me. We’ve all worked with someone who is sick every five minutes. My former workplace had several of them, and the rest of us were always griping about having to do their work. Knowing how my coworkers and I felt about picking up the slack made me terrified of becoming one of the people they complained about. So I went to work.
I worried about getting seriously sick. Every time I woke up with a cold or other illness, I would think to myself, What if I use up my sick time and get really sick? I need to have enough time to cover me until short-term disability kicks in. So off I would go, telling myself it wasn’t that bad and I’d be okay if I just took some medicine.
I have control issues. I’m really bad about thinking the world will fall apart if I let someone else handle things. Not that I’m perfect or do everything so well, but I just feel like at least if something gets screwed up, I can figure out why and correct it. If someone else does it, I may not know what happened. The thought of someone trying to do my work would keep me awake at night.
Why it’s Dumb to Work When You’re Sick
Do I even need to include this section? I mean, come on people. You know darn well that other people don’t want your germs. You know you don’t get anything done if you work when you’re sick – you just keep taking Dayquil and looking at the clock, waiting for the torture to end. And you know that you prolong your illness by refusing to lie down and rest. Yet I’d venture to say I’m not the only person who has a hard time resting when there’s work to be done.
Wednesday morning I woke up with a cold. Yesterday I felt like I was dying. And if I thought it was hard to take sick time before I quit my job, well, welcome to working from home! I tried to catch up on a few things, but I couldn’t even think straight. I sent emails without the proper attachments. I sent an invoice to the wrong client. I coughed so hard during a Skype call that my client asked if he should call for help. And I finally had to admit to myself, This isn’t working.
I’m learning that my health is not a competition. I work long hours in the high-stress world of owning a small business, and I can’t afford to run myself down to the point of compromising my immune system. Sure, some of my clients get aggravated when there’s a delay, and I bet some of them think I’m either lying or being a wimp. Some probably think, Well, I get sick and *I* don’t take time off. A year ago I would have said the same thing. But at this point in my life, there are more important things to worry about.
Just Say No
No job is worth the risks of going to work when you honestly don’t feel like working. If more people would be brave enough to stay home when they were sick, the stigma of taking sick time for legitimate illnesses might start to go away. Until then, keep in mind that every time you work when you’re sick, you’re potentially infecting others AND contributing to the problem.
Do you go to work when you’re sick? Am I the only one who felt like I couldn’t take time off for fear of repercussions from my employer? Ever catch cooties from a sick coworker?
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