‘I Let Myself Get Really Sick Because I Tried To Work Through It’

Though some people abuse sick days or make up ridiculous excuses as to why they need one, it seems like the majority of people drag themselves into the office even if they have a fever, a hacking cough or are contagious. But does this really make them look like a dedicated employee or like a bad one because they are potentially getting everyone around them sick? Plus, a lot of the time they make themselves even sicker by insisting on working in their condition. We talked to some people about why they work when they are sick.

A 2008 study of 12,395 workers found that 70% of employees go to work sick at least once a year. The main reason for working when sick according to workers in Sweden was fear of “being judged as fragile or unreliable” if they say they are too ill to work.  “I have to be so sick I can hardly get out of bed,” before taking a sick day, one Seattle government-agency manager told The Wall Street Journal.

Susan Wilson Solovic is the CEO and Co-Founder of SBTV — Small Business Television. She told The Grindstone: 

“When we were initially building the company, I started experiencing severe pain. I ignored it. Eventually it became almost crippling — yet I pushed forward. Finally I landed at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN where I underwent a series of tests for a week. I could barely sleep or function because of the pain. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and told I’d have to make serious lifestyle changes to regain my health. While I still work when I don’t feel well, I don’t push myself to the point of no return. I’ve learned that I have to balance things a little better. Entrepreneurs rarely take sick days because the work only mounts up when you aren’t there. But when you’re sick your productivity is low and you’re better off to rest and come back in a healthier state of mind.”

Dan O’Connell of O’Connell Communications, Inc., told The Grindstone he thought he was doing everyone a favor when he came to the office sick.  It was the middle of a nasty Chicago winter, and his cold had recently upgraded from the sniffles to a stint in the emergency room (where he discovered he had pneumonia.) Regardless of his diagnosis, he went to work the next day because he wanted everyone to see how dedicated he was.

He remembers how he had only been sitting at his desk for five minutes before he started receiving looks of contempt and horror from his coworkers.  The office manager immediately informed him he needed to leave and go home, which he did.  It was only after he came back to the office one week later, that he found out he had infected three other people in his office.

“A few months later I moved on to another agency,” he said. “But I had to suffer glares of ‘you ruined my life for a week’ from coworkers in the meantime.”

But for some employees, being sick is literally not an option. Many IT teams had to work non-stop the weekend before Hurricane Sandy hit to help other employees be able to work remotely. Manuel Raynal, Vice President of IT & Data Center Operations, for L K Consulting, LLC, told us about the pressures of working in the IT department.

“This scenario is actually a very common one for IT professionals, primarily because if we don’t keep the systems up and running we almost every time lose our jobs. As a result, it is not unusual to see an IT professional work two days straight, get sick and then keep working and get even more sick. It happens to me at least five times a year. Ironically enough, the IT professionals that get sick most often and then keep working are those that work for hospitals. This happens because doctors can do very little in the ER of the modern age if the technologies that support the ER are not operational. In this example, there is a lot of guilt and responsibility that goes along with not keeping the systems up and running because their lack of operation means people are dying. As a result, most IT folks would prefer that they get sick and people not die.. IT system outages don’t just lead to guaranteed job loss for an IT professional, in many cases they also lead to criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits.”

Photo: bds/Shutterstock.com

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    • Alexandra

      Too bad you can’t just take a sick day in university, I’ve been sick for almost two weeks now.