Why Taking Sick Days Off Is Even More Important Than Ever

“Take time away from ‘the office’, even if your office might be your dining table.”
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We’re months into the pandemic and it shows no signs of letting up soon. But while this time last November, we were entering headlong into another national lockdown, most of us are now going about work and life relatively as normal.

When restrictions lifted over the summer, people couldn’t wait to get out and about. But then came autumn, and now winter, and with it a seasonal spread of germs. And it’s not just Covid – cold and flu season is also upon us with many more people getting sick, some of us the first time in almost two years.

In pre-pandemic times, our reaction to feeling poorly was usually to stay off work. No one wants to get out of bed and make their way into the office when they’re under the weather. But sick days feel a bit more complicated now.

Catch Covid and we know the advice: you have to self-isolate for 10 days. If you’re back in the workplace, that means letting your employer know and staying home. If you’re already at home, you might even be able to work through itn– if your case is mild or asymptomatic.

But what happens when it’s “just” a cold or flu? Well, firstly, we need to take these seriously, too. Public Health England says the number of people experiencing common colds and other respiratory infections continues to rise, particularly among the under-15s, but also in older people.

“Influenza is one to watch out for this winter,” Dr Anam Ashraf, a GP at digital healthcare provider Livi, tells HuffPost UK.

“While we have all been focused on stopping the spread of Covid, our immune systems haven’t been exposed to the mix of infections that it would normally have to contend with,” Dr Ashraf adds. “There are lots of different strains of it. It’s spread through the droplets produced when we cough and sneeze. These can spread easily indoors and in warm environments with poor ventilation.”

Much like Covid, then. But while workplaces are on high alert for Covid, report a cold with a small c and some employers may be slower to sign you off. And if you’re yet to return to daily commuting or seeing any colleagues face to face, you may be putting pressure on yourself to carry on regardless.

Don’t, say the experts.

If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that staying home and taking it easy when you’re sick is the best and safest course of action – for you and for others.

“Many of us have become accustomed to working from home since the start of the pandemic, with lots of us still doing so or carrying out hybrid working,” says Giulia Guerrini, lead pharmacist at digital pharmacy Medino.

This shouldn’t preclude taking a sick day, she says – even when you’ve tested for Covid and got a negative result. “It’s important to remember to take time away from ‘the office’, even if your office might be your dining table.”

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Paula Allen, global lead and senior vice-president of research at wellbeing consultancy, Lifeworks, agrees and says it’s vital we listen to our bodies.

“The main sign that you are too ill to work is when you simply cannot do the tasks of your job. You may have too much difficulty concentrating or be unable to lift the things you need to,” says Allen.

If a task you can normally do seamlessly feels like a chore, it might be time to take a break. But also be alert to signs of mental strain.

“If you’re finding yourself exhausted, that you can’t do much of value and that your body needs time to heal, you should take time off.”

“These things often appear more clear-cut for physical illness, but the same applies for mental health issues,” Allen says.

“If you’re finding yourself exhausted, that you can’t do much of value and that your body needs time to heal, you should take time off.”

Charlotte*, a 25-year-old project officer from London, used to overthink taking days off while working from home. But now she’s started to take them when she needs to – both for colds but also for the pain of particularly heavy periods.

“It’s easy not to take time off when working from home because, relatively, you are more comfortable and free to work on your own time, which helps if you’re unwell. But my employer is quite good and takes wellbeing seriously so my line manager has always told me to not feel bad about calling in sick,” she says.

“It can feel like we’re not really working when we’re completing tasks at the comfort of our sofa. But even if we’re not at the office, our body and minds need time off,” she adds/

Working through illness may seem the right thing for you and you team, but you’re unlikely to be performing tasks to the best of your ability. Additionally, you’re not allowing your body to rest, which can lead to becoming burnt out.

“Taking time off allows us to recharge our bodies and minds, often increasing our ability to work to a better level afterwards,” says Guerrini. “It’s so important to make sure we’re taking real breaks so that we don’t overwork ourselves, resulting in stress.”

A break may be a mid-morning cup of tea or it might mean booking a holiday. It is also means using your sick days where necessary.

“Overall, taking our annual leave and any other time off that we’re allowed (including sick days when we need them) will lower our levels of stress, make us happier and in general, mean we’re more satisfied with life,” says Guerrini.

Why rest is so important

“As we’re living in a world that’s constantly switched on, it’s important not to forget how vital it is to allow our bodies to rest. Alongside a good night’s sleep, rest throughout the day is essential for our body and our mind, as well as our emotional wellbeing,” explains Giulia Guerrini.

“If we don’t rest enough, our bodies and minds become less alert to the things happening around us. Lack of rest can also increase our levels of tiredness throughout the day, alongside affecting our moods and lowering our concentration levels.

“If you’re not resting enough, you may become at risk of diabetes as a lack of rest and sleep will affect your body’s release of insulin. Heart disease is another risk factor of being sleep deprived, as increased blood pressure and a high level of chemicals linked to inflammation appear when our body isn’t getting enough rest.”