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Written By: Robin Madell, Corporate /Executive Writer

You wake up with your head pounding, or with that telltale sore throat that heralds the beginning of a bug. But instead of taking the rare employer-sanctioned and fully paid opportunity to take a day off of work and recover, you find yourself instead heading for the shower and getting ready to go into the office like it’s any other day.

If that sounds like you, you’ve got quite a bit of company. A 2017 study found that one out of four employees wouldn’t call in sick to work unless they were in the hospital! While some bosses worry that you might call in sick when you’re well, it seems the bigger concern is getting people to stay home when they are legitimately sick, and likely also contagious.

Working from home plays an interesting role in this era of always-on work mentality. If your employer is among the many that allow work-from-home arrangements, you may feel compelled to keep tethered to people and projects in the office even when using one of your precious sick days. This isn’t really fair to you, since the point of taking a sick day is to allow you some work-free time to recover, not to stay engaged and stressed out with the same things in the office that you’d be dealing with if you were well and there in person.

Job hunters face a similar conundrum, since showing up sick to a job interview means that you likely won’t perform at your best, and you’ll also jeopardize the health of your potential new employer/hiring team.

As Kim Dawson, director of employee engagement at YouEarnedIt, says: “It’s no secret that many offices have cultures that encourage the ‘always-on’ mentality—meaning that employees at these organizations can find it difficult to ask for time off when they’re sick, and are often encouraged to work from home instead.”

If you find yourself struggling to simply take a day off to rest when you’re sick, feel the pressure of your company’s culture to keep working either in the office or from home, or aren’t sure what the right approach is when you fall ill during your job search, try the following strategies:

Make contingency plans before you need them.

Once you’re sick, it’s late in the game to scramble and come up with a backup plan for covering your work while you’re out. That’s why Dawson advises thinking these things through in advance of feeling symptoms that warrant a sick day:

“It’s important for employees and managers to have these types of conversations before they happen—proactively working with your manager about expectations during sick days can help prevent an undesirable situation in the future.”

However, she emphasizes that if you find yourself out sick and haven’t had a proactive conversation about sick day expectations, you should be transparent about how much work, if any, you are able to accomplish. “If you can’t produce high-quality work—even from the comfort of your own home—when you’re under the weather, relay that message to your manager. If they value your contributions and are a good supervisor, they will understand and step in to help until you’re feeling better.”

Dawson suggests additionally having a separate conversation with your manager once you’re feeling better, letting them know of your work preferences when you’re sick and implementing a plan for similar situations moving forward.

Recognize the long-term effects of your decisions.

While pushing through when you’re feeling sick may seem to be the “easiest” way to handle the situation in the short-term, it’s important to see the big picture. By making yourself keep working when your body wants to rest, you’re not only exposing everyone in the office to germs if you go in, but you’re also setting yourself up for exhaustion and burnout even if you do the work from a home office.

“Instead of taking a sick day, more and more employees opt to work from home when they’re under the weather, instead of taking time off completely to rest,” explains Dawson. “And while this doesn’t seem too alarming, this always-on mentality is actually hurting workers in the long run, causing them to burn out quicker—both physically and mentally.” Instead of leaving yourself and others vulnerable to these possibilities, figure out who in your department can cover your projects while you rest completely.

Think about impressions during your job search.

If you’re trying to figure out whether to soldier on to an interview when you’re sick or let the hiring team know about your health situation, it can help to think about the impression that you want to make during your meetings. If you have an interview scheduled (even by phone) and you spend half of it coughing and sneezing, you’re not likely going to be the candidate who the team wants to hire. Yes, you’ll look like you’ve prioritized making the interview happen at all costs—but that isn’t what every manager wants to see.

If you feel that your performance will be hampered by your cold, then do the right thing and reschedule your interview. The initial disappointment that the team may feel in needing to change the date will quickly be replaced by gratitude at not catching whatever you have.

The moral here is that you’re better off recovering when you don’t feel well, rather than hurting your performance, getting run-down, or making others sick too.

For more work related advice visit our talent blog or contact us today.

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