Friday, October 23, 2015

On Taking Sick Days

I was reminded of this after reading an article on NPR the other day. The article was about how people working in the food industry often come to work sick and don’t take sick days because they typically don’t get paid sick days. And if they can afford to take a day without pay (which most can’t), they’re often quickly replaced. The issue of people not getting paid sick days in the first place is one that I’m not going to tackle today. I did comment on the article though, saying that people coming to work while sick is an issue in almost every industry, even those that do provide paid sick leave. I also commented that I had a manager earlier this year who was baffled that I left the office because I wasn’t feeling well. She made a comment to a coworker that she was once “throwing up at her desk and managed to make it through the day”.

Not too long ago, a woman retired from her job at the bank I work at. Aside from taking maternity leave, she only ever took 2 sick days in the many, many years she worked there. She was proud of this fact, and several people praised her for it, hinting that younger generations are more prone to taking sick days and should try harder to follow her example instead. 

I used to think perfect attendance was important. I often put schoolwork and other priorities way before my physical or mental health. After years of struggling through school or work while sick (I’ve taken finals with a concussion, with a freshly torn-off toenail, etc.), I finally started making my health a priority.

I take sick days now. Sometimes even when I'm not physically ill. Because I [now] believe in taking care of myself. After 26 years, I know my limits. I know when I'm sick enough to need a day or two to rest completely. I'm also courteous enough to stay home when I'm contagious to prevent coworkers and others from getting sick as well. And I appreciate when coworkers do the same. 

Sometimes I'm not physically ill. Sometimes I'm just exhausted and burnt out. Sometimes I need a break to recharge. Because when I burn myself out, I give far less than 100%. And my employer, coworkers, and customers deserve 100%. And I deserve to be capable of giving it. So yes, I've taken a day off here and there to sleep or watch Netflix all day. Because sometimes even the weekends are so busy that I don't ever really get to truly rest. And, as with my current job at the bank, I work some weekends, and that plays a big role in burnout. 

Sure, having a great attendance record is important. Getting all of your work done and meeting deadlines is important. But physical and mental health should come first. And if that means taking a sick day every now and then, so be it.