Sick Day Guilt Is Real—Here’s an MD’s Advice for Avoiding It, Especially if You Work Remotely

Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: You're under the weather and know you probably should take a sick day, but thinking about all the work you'd fall behind on leaves you feeling stressed and downright guilty. And if you work from home? Calling out feels less like an option and more like "I'll just push through from my couch."

"People are working longer and harder than ever before, and they can find it very difficult to disconnect and unplug from work," says Cynthia B.R Zelis, MD, MBA, and former chief medical officer for MDLIVE. "However, sick bodies need time to rest and recuperate—whether it is for physical or mental health reasons, and pushing through the day does not benefit anyone in the long run." (How useful was your brain, really, that day you couldn't stop sneezing?)

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The guidelines for sick days have traditionally been "if you're sick, stay home" to avoid spreading germs around the office. But, what if you're already home? Then, the guidelines aren't quite as clear, and research conducted by MDLIVE—a fast, hassle-free telehealth platform that connects you to board-certified doctors and licensed therapists—shows that remote workers struggle with that gray area.

Fifty-one percent of people who work entirely remotely felt more stressed about taking a sick day this year than in past years, compared to just over one-third of people who work entirely in-person, according to a January 2021 online survey of 2,000 employed U.S. workers commissioned by MDLIVE and conducted by OnePoll.

"Our research shows that people who work remotely feel a greater sense of guilt for taking a sick day than someone who works in the office," Dr. Zelis says. "Since they’re working remotely and don’t pose a risk to other employees, they sometimes don’t find that not feeling well is a good enough reason to take a day off and might worry that this may impact their job security."

The guidelines for sick days have traditionally been "if you're sick, stay home." But, what if you're already home?

"In addition, employees may feel they are letting their colleagues down or that their employer expects them to work on a sick day," she adds. "While I sympathize with our patients about how hard it can be to unplug, I always stress the importance of taking care of yourself, especially when you’re sick." Self care is always the answer.

One way that Dr. Zelis recommends avoiding sick-day guilt? By getting a doctor's note. Not only will it give you the peace of mind that a real-life doctor agrees that you deserve to take the day, but it will also show your employer that you're not trying to just skip out on work.

To easily get a doctor's note from the comfort of your couch, MDLIVE is a go-to resource. You can quickly and easily get a diagnosis for whatever is ailing you—without having to travel to a doctor's office or urgent care center, or deal with sitting in a waiting room or in your car in the parking lot—so you can get back to resting and recouping. When you sign up for MDLIVE, you'll have access to sick-day needs like urgent care and, depending on your coverage, year-round services like primary care, dermatology, and behavioral health, all through one patient portal on your phone or computer.

"We truly need to normalize recovery and self-care, especially when we're sick," Dr. Zelis says. "Employers need to encourage it, and employees should feel comfortable practicing it." Can we get this printed on a t-shirt?

Keep scrolling for this MD's tips for avoiding sick day guilt and taking charge of your health.

Pay attention to your symptoms

The first step to determining when you should take a sick day is not downplaying any symptoms you may be experiencing. This is especially true if you work in an office or plan to come into contact with other people while you're feeling under the weather.

"Not paying attention to your symptoms and what your body needs can lead to developing complications and/or prolonging illness, which can also lead to an increase in cost-of-care and ultimately time away from work," Dr. Zelis says.

So on top of continuing to not feel your best, you'll only prolong your back-to-work date, which is the kind of stress we're trying to avoid here, right?

Take your productivity into consideration

Sick-day daze is real. Have you ever tried to write a normal email or participate in a meeting while you're feeling congested, fatigued, or unwell? Spoiler: It never goes as well as you think it will.

"When sick, we have a harder time focusing, can’t concentrate for as long, and may have a difficult time looking at screens for an extended period of time—all of which can compromise productivity and work quality," Dr. Zelis says. "Additionally, when someone isn’t feeling well, whether it’s physical, emotional, or psychological, they may find it harder to think rationally and make good decisions." Do yourself a favor and take the sick day—your quality of work (and therefore, your boss) will thank you.

Rest, recuperate, and recharge

Not only does working through symptoms impact your work, but it can also make you feel sick for longer. "Since high levels of stress dampen the immune response, the anxiety of juggling deadlines and projects at work while trying to recover can result in the body taking longer to heal," Dr. Zelis says. This is the time to *definitely* listen to the doctor's orders.

"Additionally, prolonging an illness can quickly turn into more missed workdays and greater loss of productivity." A clearer head, smarter decisions, balanced emotions, and a quicker recovery time? Sick days—and speaking to an MDLIVE professional at your fingertips—are the (guilt-free!) move.

Top photo: MDLIVE

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