Why Calling in Sick While Working from Home Can Be Stressful


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A new survey found that 45 percent of people say that asking for a day off from work during the pandemic is more stressful than ever, causing many to delay care. PeopleImages/Getty Images
  • A recent survey has found that workers are stressed about taking sick days during the pandemic.
  • Remote workers stress more about taking sick days than those working in-person, according to the poll.
  • Workers are mostly in need of mental health days during the pandemic.

When you’re not feeling well, the last thing you need is to stress about taking a sick day from work.

But the pandemic has gotten people in the United States worried sick about calling in.

According to a survey of 2,000 workers in the United States, 42 percent of employees were more stressed or anxious about taking a sick day in 2020 than in years past. The survey was conducted by the virtual healthcare provider MDLIVE.

“Even though we know taking a sick day has always been stressful, the pandemic has really escalated that stress even more,” Dr. Cynthia Zelis, chief medical officer of MDLIVE, told Healthline.

Working from home adds more stress to the matter as sick day stress was found to be higher among people working remotely than those working in-person. Additionally, 60 percent of remote workers reported their boss or employer expects them to work in some way when taking a sick day.

Given so, it’s no surprise that 45 percent of those working from home feel guilty taking a sick day.

“[In] a work-from-home situation, we are often feeling additional pressure to showcase we are getting things done. This leads to longer hours, less breaks, and more mental fatigue. So, the importance for time to reset when feeling the potential pressures of burnout is completely reasonable,” Sherese Ezelle, licensed behavioral therapist at One Medical, told Healthline.

Since people are working longer hours at home, Zelis said that in addition to not taking sick days, people are delaying seeing a doctor.

When considering taking a sick day in 2020, 23 percent of workers were most concerned about catching COVID-19 at their doctor’s office.

“When they are finally coming to see us in the telemedicine space, most said they [have] delayed care,” she said.

The survey also found the following:

  • Workers estimated that taking a sick day costs them, on average, $227 in lost income and out-of-pocket expenses with the highest average estimated sick day expense being a visit to the doctor ($63), followed by estimated lost income ($60), and estimated childcare costs ($53).
  • Men were more stressed about taking a sick day in 2020 over previous years than women.
  • While men were most stressed about keeping up with work, women were most stressed about helping kids with their schoolwork.

While taking a sick day caused workers stress and anxiety, the MDLIVE poll found that stress and anxiety were reasons for needing a mental health day.

Moreover, 55 percent of workers said they were more likely to take a sick day for mental health reasons.

However, remote workers reported the most need for mental health days with two-thirds (64 percent) stating that they were more likely over the previous year to take a sick day for mental health reasons, compared to 40 percent of those working in-person.

“Mental health days can and should be used as an opportunity to reset. They provide room for emotional rest and can be used during any time, particularly those in which there are many stressors,” Ezelle said.

When the mind is given time to rest and reset, employers and coworkers benefit, too, she added.

“[You] are most healthy and productive when both your mind and body are on the same page,” Ezelle said. “Your ability to function mentally can say a lot about your ability to be productive and prepared to handle that presentation, provide supervision to a supervisee, or talk with shareholders.”

Additionally, family members reap benefits from a loved one’s break from work.

According to the survey, 80 percent of people feel stress and anxiety is contagious among family members, and 45 percent said they expect their family to be more impacted by stress and anxiety than by typical winter illnesses, such as the cold and flu.

“How that plays into sick days is that we’re feeling stressed and all living together, and [given so how] can you really unplug in this virtual living space?” Zelis said.

If you find yourself feeling anxious about needing to ask for a sick day, experts say to consider the following three tips that can help set your mind at ease.

1. Initiate open conversation

Talk to your boss or manager honestly about your need for a day off.

“Start a dialogue with your leadership in which you share the importance of needing to ‘hit the reset button.’ Identify that your needs are important in order to be healthy and effective in your work,” Ezelle said.

By starting the conversation, Zelis added that you’re helping to debunk the perception that taking sick days is wrong.

She recommends reassuring your manager or boss that you have a plan to get your work done when you return, “and won’t let them down.”

2. Share the facts

Sharing facts from surveys like MDLIVE’s can show that your need is real.

“Help [your boss] recognize facts and that there are real costs emotionally, financially, and physically, if we don’t take sick days,” Zelis said.

For instance, sources like the National Partnership for Women & Families outline how paid sick days are good for business, citing that working while sick costs the national economy $234 billion annually in lost productivity.

3. Let go of guilt

Because anxiety is associated with uncertainty, Ezelle said that mental health days are a way to identify things that are within your control.

“The pressures of others are out of your control, but your response and ability to take good care of yourself despite your day-to-day challenges is in your control,” she said.

Use this sentiment to feel empowered and confident in your choice to take a day off.

“It is important to change the narrative regarding self-care and mental health days to promote overall wellness. This begins with reshaping our view of self-care. From this definition we are able to acknowledge the importance of a healthy relationship with ourselves and the positive impact it has in and outside of the workplace,” Ezelle said.


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