Called in sick? Why taking time to reset is good for you

If you’ve taken a sick day, lose the guilt. A day off work from time to time can provide a valuable mental reset, while soldiering on if you’re unwell can do more harm than good. Here’s why.

In the UK, the first Monday in February is reportedly the most popular day in the year to chuck a sickie, while in Australia phoney excuses to the boss skyrocket the day after any major sporting event.

But for every person pulling a fake sickie, there’s another stoic worker soldiering on when they really should be recovering in bed.

That’s especially the case during the pandemic, says Anya Stephens, founder of psychological consultancy PeopleSense by Altius.

How the pandemic changed sick days

While working from home has given many people amazing flexibility, there’s also a flipside, says the registered psychologist.

“Now it means that everybody can work all the time.

“Previously if you were feeling a bit sick you might have gone, oh I’m not quite well enough to go in, whereas now you’ll go, I’m well enough to go and switch the computer on,” Anya says.

“A lot of people I think feel a bit guilty – I’m at home, I should be able to do something.”

Why you shouldn’t “soldier on”

Dr Anita Munoz, of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, agrees that the shift to remote working has changed many people’s attitudes to sick days.

“Working from home in many ways has shifted the paradigm of staying home to recover from illness,” she says, noting that if we don’t take time to recover properly, poor health can stretch on.

Being sick at work doesn’t help anyone

Anya says working while under the weather can also harm your productivity.

“You’re not probably working at your best, which is called presenteeism,” she says.

“So you’re present but you’re not really there.

“That costs businesses a huge amount of money because you’re just not up to speed or you make mistakes, or your customer service is average.”

While there’s no question that many workers, especially those in healthcare, are desperately needed right now, Anya says it should not be impossible for anyone to take sick leave.

“If you have people who are underproductive and crumbling, physically and psychologically, then it’s not a benefit to push through – it’s going to cause damage in the long term.”

Consult your GP for advice

If you are unwell – including with Covid-19 – and thinking about working from home anyway, Dr Munoz suggests asking your doctor for advice.

“It can be difficult to get the balance right,” she says.

“It’s great to get back to work and stay occupied, but not at the detriment of proper self-care.”

And of course, if you are required at the workplace but feel unwell, it’s important to stay home and minimise the chances of infecting your workmates.

Why you need to refresh

Either way, if you push on when unwell – either physically or mentally – it can lead to burnout and reduced wellbeing, says Anya.

“You know that when you’re not at your best, your mood often drops.

“You start to hate your job, you hate your colleagues, you hate everything and it’s not about the work – it’s actually about the fact that you’re ill,” she says

In this case it’s best to rest your foggy brain and take some much-needed time out.

Take a guilt-free mental health day

Anya says if a worker is battling on with poor mental health, it’s only exacerbating the situation.

“We work with people who have to take three months off because they’ve hit depression, and once you’ve hit depression it really takes a long time to get out,” she says.

“But if you catch it before it really gets a hold of you, you can turn it around.

“Some of that is taking a breather, and some of that is getting some good help.”

Written by Larissa Ham.