Written by Janelle Wilhelm, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at Kentucky Refugee Ministries.
One morning, I woke up with a sore throat. I thought, Crap, I have a cold, and proceeded to treat it with copious amounts of hot tea. Two days later, I woke up with a sore face. At that point, I thought, This may be a sinus infection, and I may need antibiotics. So I texted my supervisor and informed her I would be taking a sick day.
This is not something a younger me would have done. My third-grade self once stuck out a whole day at school with a fever of 104° (somehow my teacher failed to notice I was falling asleep in my chair). And for most of my working life, my rule of thumb was that I had to at least be vomiting before I could justifiably claim sickness: coughing, sneezing, congestion, aches and pains, and mental breakdowns didn’t count.
A big part of this mindset, of course, came from cultural expectations: like many Americans, I didn’t want to look like a slacker. But after thinking it through, I’ve come to believe it really is better to take a sick day when you’re, well, sick. Here’s why:
- It’s literally what sick days are for.
Seriously. If you’re sick, don’t go to work; go to a doctor. (You can try The Little Clinic or Norton Prompt Care if you don’t have a primary care provider in the area.) Get the rest and treatment you need to get over your illness faster. As VISTAs, we get ten whole days allotted to us for this very purpose. It would be wasteful not to use that time when you need it.
- You’ll be doing your colleagues a favor.
You may worry that by taking a sick day, you’ll be creating extra work for the rest of your team. But by staying home when you’re sick, you’ll spare everyone at work from catching whatever you have, and that’s just common courtesy. Plus you may even set an example for the next person to come down with something, so they’ll feel encouraged to take a day off when they need it, too.
- You won’t accomplish anything anyway.
If you feel bad enough that you find yourself thinking, I’m going to be useless at work today—you’re probably right. You’ll be unable to concentrate and more likely to make mistakes if you go to work sick. And all that time wasted trying to be productive is time you could spend recuperating instead. It’s not worth it. Just stay home.
- Fight the power.
Going to work when you’re sick doesn’t prove you’re tough; it proves you have bought into the capitalist notion that your worth as a human is determined by the amount of labor you’re able to perform. And let’s face it, y’all: we don’t get paid enough for that nonsense.
- You ain’t special.
The work we do as VISTAs is important, absolutely. But resist the temptation to think it will all go to ruin if you miss a day. Communicate with your team when you’re out sick and trust them to hold down the fort while you’re away. Your work site—and your work—will still be there when you get back.