What happened to the sick day?

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Do you remember waking up as a child or teenager and not feeling well? Perhaps a caregiver would feel your forehead and then have you place a thermometer under your tongue? If it was over 99-degrees Fahrenheit, the odds were in your favor. A day of napping, The Price is Right, and chicken noodle soup was in your future.

But just this past week, my son had a fever. Nothing over 100, but with this new omicron variant, we knew he needed to stay home, rest, and get tested for Covid. But sit around watching TV or snooze on the couch? Not happening. Thanks to Google Classroom, school goes on no matter where we are in the world (or how we’re feeling). Which is both a blessing and a curse.

Of course, there are benefits. Yes, my child was able to get his work done and turned in on time. No, he wasn’t behind just because he stayed home from school. But it came with a bit of sadness. When he logged in for a book discussion with his group, his teacher asked him how he was feeling and then sent me a message that he, “Didn’t look well.” The online group meeting was optional, but he was excited to see his friends. And he was concerned the teacher wouldn’t think he was keeping up with his book. It made me think back to a few weeks prior when I hadn’t felt good but worked anyways.

I probably should have spent the day resting but I was worried my colleagues would think I was falling behind. Or, worse, that they weren’t a priority for me. So, I sat at my desk wrapped in a blanket and worked through my to-do list. By my second call of the afternoon, a colleague questioned me. “How are you feeling?” I smiled and said, “Great!” But I could tell they knew I wasn’t “great” at all. In fact, they encouraged me to take the time I needed to feel better.

Both my son’s illness and mine caused me to pause and consider: Since March 2020, how many of us have taken a legit sick day?

Sick Days by the numbers

Historically, sick days are under utilized by American workers. However, the Covid-19 pandemic changed things, but not by much.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipated a 25% increase in sick leave because of Covid-19 in 2020; however, the increase was only 14% raising questions as to whether or not people allowed themselves the time off needed to truly get well and feel better. This was especially a concern for workers who were able to work from home and didn’t have to worry about whether or not they were contagious.

In some cases, employees who only had 5-6 sick days to use in the year, chose to only use a couple (if they absolutely had to), so as to reserve a few should they or a loved one become sick later in the year.

In other cases where employees had unlimited or flexible paid time off, Indeed.com suggests those workers took less time away than they would if there was a limit. This, of course, can lead to employee burnout or sick employees either coming into the office or working from home. In either scenario, their productivity, effectiveness, and relationships with their job, manager, and organization suffer.

Let’s get better, for real

So, what can we do? This may seem radical, but I propose we bring back the sick day. We normalize it and recognize that when someone says they are sick they will not be available for work. We accept it. Then, we offer them help to delegate tasks. We offer the opportunity to connect when they feel better to catch up before returning to their role within the organization. We tell them, “Get well soon” and mean it.

Further, we should encourage sick days. We all know in the recesses of our minds that we’re not helpful to anyone if we’re not taking care of ourselves. We should all prioritize and be mindful of our own health and let others know when we need a break. In fact, most leaders I’ve encountered are skilled at saying these things but not doing them for themselves. But when leaders are able to better prioritize their own mental and physical health, their teams are more likely to do the same—potentially reducing the risk of burnout.

It’s safe to assume we will always need sick days—pandemic or not. And when we take care of ourselves, we’re more productive at work and better positioned to also take care of others. Admitting you’re not feeling well isn’t a sign of weakness. It actually indicates how much you value your teams, job, organization and loved ones. So, let’s bring back the sick day. And maybe we’ll all start feeling better for it.


Interested in learning more about emotional intelligence and its impact on effective leadership? Read this article from Leadership Consultant and EQ-certified Coach Kye Hawkins.

You may also want to check out “How to build work-life balance into your company culture” by ADVISA’s President, Heather Haas.