Hey there. I haven’t written anything in a while because I’ve been sick. Nothing serious, just a cold. But for the first time in what feels like a very long time, I actually went home sick today — just because of a cold. As I lay in bed, trying to fall asleep (thanks to the cat for jumping on me whenever I was about to drift off), I started thinking about how my opinions on taking sick days have changed over the years. If you’ve gone through school and made the transition from an hourly minimum wage job to a “real” job, maybe you’ve had this experience as well.
Elementary/Middle School: Sick Days as an Excuse
I can remember a number of times in grade school when I faked sick so I didn’t have to go. (Sorry, Mom!) This was especially easy when I felt a few symptoms, but definitely not enough to keep me home. So, of course, exaggerating was key. I think once I even went so far as to put a bit of concealer on my lips so I’d look pale. At that point in my life, the consequences of taking sick days were minimal. Realistically, the worst case scenario was missing a test, in which case you’d simply take it the next day. All it took was a note from your parents. Easy peasy. Naturally, when I was actually sick, I’d also be staying home.
High School: A Little More Calculated
High school sick days were a little more risky. Sure, the work was easy and I could catch up given enough time, but there were grades on the line that would determine university admissions and scholarships. Whether or not I took the day off for an illness was heavily dependent on what I would be missing. And there were still a couple of instances in which “I’m feeling slightly under the weather” was enough to stay home. Sometimes I knew when I woke up feeling awful that those symptoms would fade throughout the day, but an awful morning wasn’t worth a tolerable afternoon.
University: No Problem
After spending eighteen years of your life having the importance of perfect attendance drilled into your head, university was definitely a welcome change. Luckily, I’m pretty self-disciplined as it is, so skipping classes for no reason wasn’t really an issue for me. The great thing was that when you were sick, you could stay home, no questions asked (with some exceptions, like labs or exams). Even better, living on or near campus allowed me to attend one class, go home in between, skip the next one, and mix and match until I felt better. Many materials were online to allow you to catch up, and it was easy to decide which courses were more suited to absences than others. When it came to minor illnesses, this was the life.
Summer Job: Sick Days are Totally Unacceptable
I’ll preface this by saying that I’m a total keener and I cared way too much about the welfare of my workplace when I was essentially making minimum wage. First of all, it was an hourly gig, so calling in sick meant no pay for the day. Bummer. On top of that, when you don’t show up, there’s no one to cover for you, so the rest of the team is left scrambling. If I didn’t care about the work itself, this wouldn’t be an issue. Alas, the perfectionist in me couldn’t stand for that. And the biggest factor for me in my later years of this particular job was the fact that I was supervising a group of teenagers, and I had to ensure that they knew how horrible everything would be if someone called in sick and we were down a body. I had to lead by example. This meant working through many a cold, outdoors, standing and running for ten hours straight. I’d feel terribly guilty otherwise. I think this experience was the one that had the most impact on my views on this topic. Aside from anything seriously contagious or debilitating, my instinct is to tough it out.
Full-Time Job: …I Can Take A Sick Day?!
Coming into my first full-time, salaried position after spending six years straight doing the aforementioned summer job, I assumed that my five yearly sick days were a formality. I wasn’t actually expected to take those, was I? Wouldn’t I get in trouble or let the whole team down?
I ended up having to take last year’s sick days for what felt like a legitimate reason (strep throat). But this week, as I felt a cold coming on, I just assumed that I’d have to power through it. However, on day three of my cold (i.e. today), I realized something kind of unexpected:
Doing a generally physical job, like my previous summer job, with a cold wasn’t really a big deal. Working at a desk with a cold is so much harder.
I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t really do anything useful. And when I told people I was going to take a sick day, the consensus was “Yes, please, go home”. That shouldn’t have been a surprise, but to me, it really was.
I had a nice nap. I feel a little better. And I’m going to bed now.
What are your thoughts on sick days?