A new study by Wakefield Research confirms what many of us already know: 69% of Americans do not take off work when ill because they feel they can’t afford to. This doesn’t include the 10.1 percent of all U.S. workers that are self-employed, but in many cases, the financial instability is the same. It seems taking time off to get well is a luxury reserved for a few.
Reasons for working while sick include not wanting to fall behind on work, the fear of being replaced or being viewed as replaceable and not having enough or any paid sick days. In fact, there are no federal legal requirements for paid sick leave and this alone might explain why the colleague next to you is sneezing on everything. Many of us are living payday to payday and one missed day in your check can make all the difference in a carefully budgeted month. Not surprisingly, most Americans would be hard pressed to find the funds for a $500 surprise expense; never mind voluntarily giving up a full day’s pay.
Women, and single moms in particular, are more likely to need sick days not only for themselves, but for their children. Many daycares and schools will send a child home if they show symptoms of colds or other sicknesses. Even moms who are married generally shoulder most of the parental responsibility. So it’s ironic that it is women who often feel the most pressure to show up for work regardless of how sick they or their children are.
It’s understandable that those without paid sick days would feel the need to work while under the weather. But even those fortunate enough to get paid sick leave aren’t taking them. Could our fear-based work culture be to blame? Most U.S. businesses live by the cliché, “time is money.” Working in a culture that views time as a commodity increases the fear that taking a sick day will result in being unemployed. Add to that the stress of working while sick by choice, along with your everyday stressors, and you could potentially be sick longer as well as far less productive than if you had stayed home for the day. We’ve been told over and over that stress kills. That continually pushing ourselves to make everything (including work) the priority over our health leads to an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke and more and yet… the fact is: Most of us still can’t afford to take a sick day.