Most people would agree that a healthy worker is probably more productive than an  unhealthy worker.  So why do we keep going to work when we’re sick?

The Sniffle Problem

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Toward the end of the third day of MozCon, I got sick.  I spent the ensuing weekend running a low fever, and when Monday rolled around there was no way I was going in to work – so I did what you would probably do in the same situation.  I worked from home.

I alternated working and sleeping that day, and the next day was back in the office like a champ.  A glazed-eyed, raspy, sniffling champ with a deep honking cough.  I worked like that for a week and a half, not getting worse but not really getting better, fighting through a DayQuil haze to accomplish my tasks. Finally I succumbed to my boyfriend’s increasingly insistent pleas that I take a real sick day.

Thursday morning, I emailed in sick (I didn’t call in sick.  Who calls anyone?  If I called my boss he’d be like “who is this?”  I’d be more likely to tweet in sick at this point).  I spent all day sleeping; I didn’t even watch The Price is Right, my go-to sick-day indulgence.

Friday morning I was fresh as a daisy. Fresh as a damn daisy. 

Imagine what would have happened if I had taken that sick day five days earlier? I would have had five more days of the increased productivity that comes from being well.  Five more days of not alarming my co-workers with my earsplitting cough, not to mention five fewer days of exposing said co-workers to my nasty cold germs.  So why didn’t I just do that?

The Busy Problem

I’ve never said this before, but part of the problem is that I love my job.  I’m incredibly invested in it.  There’s a lot to do and time moves really fast, so losing a day can feel like a lot – and when you care about your job as much as I do, that’s a worrisome proposition.
146.365:  to be busy...

SEOs are busy.  We are so darn busy.  We don’t just go to work and do our work and come home – we read blogs and go on Twitter and work on side projects and do even more work, both to stay on top of it and because we like it.  That’s awesome in a lot of ways, but not if it comes at the expense of our taking care of ourselves.

There are certain days you just can’t miss.  When your site redesign goes live, or you launch a big new product, or make a big announcement, you want to be there to monitor site performance and traffic in the ensuing hours.  But few of us have something like that happening every day.

For me, the fear that comes with the prospect of missing a day of work is that then I will have “task build-up”: the things I was going to do on my sick day get pushed out to later in the week, which will just cause more work and more stress and I’ll have less time and there’s a really big deadline coming up and so it’s really just better if I go to work sick, it will cause me less of a headache overall, right?

Wrong.  Because when I can’t focus in a meeting, I might miss something.  When I can’t speak up on a conference call, I might not call something out that needs to be called out.  When I’m slogging through my tasks with a head full of cold medicine, it’s going to take me twice as long to do them anyway.  The only stress relief that coming to work while sick really brings is that I don’t feel guilty for taking an entire day away from this awesome job that I’m so lucky to have.

You Are an Investment

In the tech world, most of us are fortunate to have some great perks at work.  Food and snacks, great benefits, ping-pong tables, maybe a sweet vacation plan.

Why do we get these things?  Because we have specialized skill sets that our employers want to attract and retain by making a great work environment.  All of those things cost money, but it’s worth it to most businesses because it’s an investment.  An investment in you.

Taking care of yourself is a good thing to do because it’s important to be nice to yourself, but it’s also a business decision.  Taking some time to tend to your physical well-being is the least you can do to respect the investment your company makes in you.

I know, I know, missing a day is hard!  You are very important at your company.  But are you SO important you can’t miss a DAY or two ONCE IN A WHILE to take care of yourself?  Honey, if you’re that important, then you’re too important NOT to.  When is your company going to get the most out of your talented, important, special brain? During five days of peak performance, or seven days of low performance?

If you can’t take care of yourself because you will feel better, do it because it will make you better at your job.

In conclusion: sometimes, work-from-home days aren’t going to give you the rest you need to recover from an illness.  It’s OK to say “I’m sick and I’m taking a sick day!”  Then have some water. And some Vitamin C.  And a nap. And eat something, you’re so thin.