Dear Lifehacker, My job lets me work from home from time to time, so usually when I'm sick I just work from my sick bed. I know I should just take it easy, but I feel like a slacker when I take a sick day, knowing that I could drag myself to my computer and work. How do I take it easy and shake my guilty conscience when I'm under the weather? Sincerely, Sick of Being Sick
Title photo by Patrick Hermans (Shutterstock).
I know exactly how you feel. At my last job, working from home was commonplace, and like your job, we were trusted to be productive when we worked from home. Unfortunately, that means that "taking a sick day" really meant "working from home". If you're nursing a cough, that might be fine, but don't let it keep you from getting the rest and sleep you need, or else you'll prolong your illness. Here are some things to remember — and ways to take care of yourself — without feeling like a slacker.
Take A Deep Breath: They'll Survive Without You
Let's get this out of the way: First of all, if you're sick, you're sick, and your primary obligation should be to getting well as soon as possible. It can be difficult, especially if you have a demanding job, to take time to sleep off an illness when you know you could get some work done if you dragged yourself to the computer, but the company you work for will survive without you. Even if you're the CEO, your company should be able to run without your fingers in the pot for a few days. Step back from the keyboard, put the phone down, and take some time to get better. Photo by Alicia Nijdam.
Or think of it this way: Even at the best job, you're still just a resource to the company. If you're sick but still working, you may get a little momentary hero-worship from your boss or co-workers, but once everyone goes back to work, no one's going to reward you for sacrificing your health to send a few emails or hop on a conference call. In the end, you have to look out for yourself.
Separate Your Job's Expectations From Reality
Ask yourself whether or not your work really requires you to stay so connected. I've been in jobs where I felt like I had to be available at all hours to stay on top of my work, but in reality that was just me — even my boss thought I was better off staying in bed when ill, and preferred I come back to my work when I felt better. Make sure you're not projecting your guilt onto your colleagues — it's quite likely they're busy enough that they don't care if you take the occasional sick day and get back to them later.
If you try and push through your work while you're sick just because you have the tools to work from home, you'll do sub-standard work. If that's your job's culture, that's a different issue, but for most of us, our co-workers and managers would rather we get better and do good work than do shoddy work in a feverish haze.
Check In If You Must, But Do It Comfortably
If you have to stay connected or check in from time to time, do so in ways that won't keep you from getting better. Sure, you can bring your laptop to bed with you and work from there, but unless it's truly urgent, we'd suggest you don't. Pick and choose the way you can touch base with your work without distracting you from your primary goal: getting well. Remember, the ability to work remotely is great, but it also comes with responsibility: You have to set your boundaries and stick to them. Photo by Rochelle Hartman.
For example, you can check in with your boss at the beginning of the day when you let them know you're sick. Ask if she needs anything from you, and make yourself available only to the extent that you want and can reasonably do so. Make sure you're clear on the difference between "available" and "working". If you have a conference call where you just need to attend and listen, you could probably hop on. If you think you can resist the temptation to respond to email and just check, go ahead.
With all of that in mind, however, we'd still recommend doing none of this. Focus on your health. Work will be there when you're better.
Remember, You Work to Live, Not Live To Work
Even if you're lucky enough to work at your passion every day, it's still called "work," and you'll be no good at it if you're sick or dead. We've discussed how one of the symptoms of being overworked is not taking your leave entitlement. Our work culture encourages us to dive into our jobs, give completely of ourselves to better our employers, and sacrifice ourselves in the process, and while it's important to do your best at whatever you do, that shouldn't come at the cost of your well-being. Photo by Scott McLeod.
Your concern for your job and your workload when you return shows you have a strong work ethic, and that's a good thing. Just make sure you don't bleed yourself dry in order to clean out your inbox. There will always be more work, more mail, more conference calls, and more people to follow up with — but there's only one you. Make sure you take care of yourself first.
Are you tempted to just VPN in to the office when you're home sick? Would you rather work from home than take a full sick day, or do you make sure to spend your sick days away from the stresses of the office? Any more advice for Sick? Sound off in the comments below.
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