Why You Should Just Take The Damn Sick Day

Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Americans are notoriously stubborn about adhering to their work schedules, even in the face of physical discomfort. One NSF survey found that over a quarter of us never let sickness stop us from coming into the office, and another third only stay home if the symptoms get serious. On top of impeding the healing process, this habit puts our coworkers in danger, says University of Guelph visiting scientist Jason Tetro, author of The Germ Code and The Germ Files. So, overall, the consequences of coming in sick far outweigh those of staying home. No matter how much you pride yourself on your work ethic, here's why you should put your ego aside when you wake up with a cough, fever, or stomach bug. Does it really make a difference if I go to work or not? People often go to work despite an illness because they feel the need to prove themselves, according to a paper in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. But, since your work will be severely compromised and you'll delay your recovery, this could backfire, says Tetro. According to a GCC Insights report, sick employees in the office cost companies 10 times more than absent ones. In other words, you'll be less productive overall if you wear yourself out than you would if you took the day off. But how likely is it that I'll actually get someone sick? Very likely, says Tetro. When we touch our faces, our hands pick up microbes, which can end up on office equipment or any coworkers we come into contact with. And if that doesn't do it, pathogens also spread through the air, so just coughing or sneezing introduces germs into your workplace. These germs can travel six feet, according to a PLOS One study — enough to reach the coworker in the next desk or cubicle. So, on average, one or two coworkers will catch an illness every time a sick person comes to work. But that's not even the worst-case scenario. In a "super-spreader event," an illness can spread through an entire office, says Tetro: "When this happens, all bets are off and an entire workplace could end up suffering."

What if I work from home, though?

Working from home when you're sick obviously won't allow you to infect coworkers, but it will cost you and your company the same amount of productivity, according to Tetro. "Without taking the time off to heal, the work suffers," he says. So, no matter what your job is, there's really no reason not to just take the damn sick day. You, your company, and your Netflix queue will be better for it.

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