In the classic '80s comedy Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the titular Ferris justifies taking a sickie with the following quote: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
We should be more like Bueller. You owe it to yourself to take all of your sick days. By December 31, your allocation of paid sick leave should be zero. This holds true whether you're sick of not.
Why you should take sick leave when you're sick
As Quartz points out, a flu can keep you contagious for a full week, even after your symptoms wear off. In an ideal world, every employer would encourage you to take sick days until you feel better, then a few work-at-home days while you get less contagious. In the real world, take what you can, and everyone wins:
You: You get some time to recover, and no one resents you for sniffling all day or for getting them sick.
Your co-workers: They don’t get sick, duh.
Your employer: Because no one else got sick, your employer loses less total productivity.
People who can’t take sick leave: This is the really important one, as Quartz points out. Some people — chiefly freelancers and casual staff — don’t have paid sick leave. If you get them sick while you’re out and about, they can’t just lounge at home and still pick up the same paycheck. If you have the privilege of paid sick leave, don’t be selfish. Use it.
Why you should take sick leave when you're not
If you still have some sick days left at the end of the year, fake it. Call in sick. It’s a mental health day, whether or not you admit that to your boss. Your employer has budgeted for this. And you’re normalising sick days. If everyone on the team takes a sick day now and then, the ones who really need it don’t get stigmatised. Yes, this is bullshit to make you feel better about lying to your boss. It’s bullshit, but it’s also true.
If you are the boss, tell your employees to go home when they’re sick. Be firm across the board about this, so no one tries to be a hero. Employees love this, because we don’t have the authority to tell our desk neighbours to leave and stop sneezing on us. We’re relying on you, bosses!
Plus, remember that one CEO who thanked an employee for taking a mental health day, and went super-viral, and the whole internet fell over themselves to praise this guy for what frankly should be a normal policy? What an easy win! Take that win, and send your employees home.
This story has been updated since its original publication.