On paper, this is a no-brainer. When you accept a job, it comes with certain benefits, like health insurance, holidays and sick days. You’re entitled to take them, so you should feel at ease about spending your sick days in bed relaxing, while your laptop charges in a different room.
Reality is a bit different. People tend to feel guilty about placing a burden on co-workers who are called upon to fill in for them, or they’re nervous about the perception that they’re avoiding work. As a result, calling out sick increasingly means that you work from home. It’s a cultural norm that couldn’t have existed a generation ago, when you couldn’t yet stay connected to your office all day via smart phones and email.
Working from home when you’re sick isn’t necessarily terrible, provided you’re doing other good things for your body like staying hydrated, but it’s not ideal either. A weakened body needs a lot of rest. And, obviously, it’s best for a sore throat to do as little talking as possible.
A few rules of thumb: Let your manager know as soon as possible that you’re going to take a sick day, and don’t wait for him or her to get to the office. Give as much notice as possible, and send a detailed email accounting for how your workload needs to be managed and if there’s anything pressing that needs to be dealt with (but not about your symptoms and how they’ve progressed; that’s too much information).
Where possible – and if you feel well enough to deal with it – let your colleagues know if there’s work they’ll need to jump into and give them the necessary context. Then report back to your boss that these projects are being taken care of. It’s good for your karma and will also make you look responsible.
If you work in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment, there may be things your input is needed for throughout the day; if so, let your boss know you’ll be intermittently checking email and that you’ll have your phone on in the event of urgent questions.
Here are more tips on how to deal with being sick under a few different circumstances.
You have the flu or a nasty cold. You’re coughing and sneezing and are badly congested. Maybe you’re running a fever. Obviously you’ll call out sick, but you shouldn’t work from home either. Give your body a chance to heal itself by resting and relaxing, and don’t try to fight off that lethargic feeling with too much caffeine. In all likelihood, you’re not going to be terribly productive in the state you’re in anyway, so you might not actually be doing your colleagues any favors. Keep your phone on and check email now and then, but that’s it.
You have the flu or a nasty cold, but now your symptoms have subsided. You’re still congested, but your energy is back. You don’t really want to lie around in bed anymore anyway. If you have a reasonable boss, they’re not going to want you back in the office while you’re still infectious. So the ideal scenario would be to officially work from home and not burn up any more sick days. Remember that coming to work while you’re still infectious is downright rude if you have another choice. So don’t come to the office just because you’re paranoid that people will suspect you of slacking off, unless, of course, you have reason to believe your job is at risk.
It’s a Friday or a Monday. You’ve woken up with signs of a cold, but you’re afraid that your colleagues will suspect you’re trying to take a three-day weekend. You shouldn’t sweat it. If you’re sick, you’re sick. However, you can avoid the perception that you’re slacking off by not taking sick days capriciously. It’s like the fable about the boy who cried wolf. If you use your sick days when you’re not actually sick and show up to the office with a tan afterward, you might arouse suspicion when you next take a sick day, even if you’re legitimately unwell.
You need a mental-health day. This is perfectly valid, though under ideal circumstances, you would take a personal day and give a few days notice to ensure that your work is covered with the least inconvenience to your co-workers. But if something upsetting happens spur of the moment that you need to deal with, try to be available via email or phone to answer urgent questions.
Do you have a story about taking a sick day and how the request went over that our community could learn from?