Feeling ill is never a pleasant experience, least of all when you have to go to work and pretend everything is ok. The common cold or flu can leave us battling on for days as we try our best to fulfill our duties so we can keep paying the rent and feed ourselves and our families. The trouble is that many of us may actually be pushing ourselves to struggle on when we should be spending time recuperating.
The average British worker only took 4.4 days sick leave in 2013, a decrease of 1.9 days over the previous decade according to figures from the latest Labour Force Survey by the Office for National Statistics. While this may be great for the nation’s productivity and national interests, it doesn’t make us any healthier. In fact, it could mean we’re suffering more as we try to compete with healthy colleagues and as a result, become an increasingly sick workforce.
Jill Sinclair, author of a new book, ‘The Art of Being Ill: Or How To Be A Better Patient’, believes many of us struggle with illness for 10 days or more but then “the need to take time off later becomes much stronger as you’ve become really ill,” she says. There is also the fact that hospitals are seeing significant increases in patients showing up at A&E, where waiting times are the worst they have been for a decade. This could indicate that, to some extent, we have lost the ability to treat ourselves at home. All of this stems from the belief that people must suffer through their illness and continue on in the workplace unless they are seriously ill.
Modern life is hectic and many of us see a ‘sick day’ as a day wasted when we could be spending it at work, earning money. Sinclair states that there’s an idea we can be ‘fixed’ when it comes to illness and our impatience leads us to feel that we can experience instant recovery through going to the doctor for a prescription.
The truth is, there are no quick fixes to wellness. We need to learn how to slow down and recover both our strength and our health by spending time looking after ourselves. This means taking the day off and staying in bed if necessary. Not only will we feel better for it, we will also encourage others – family, friends and colleagues, to slow down, take time for themselves and get healthier as a result.
Staying off when you’re sick is not something to feel guilty about. It can be tempting to try and carry on, but this only makes us, and others, feel worse. Having a sick day benefits everyone in the end, as experiencing a low-grade illness for a few days is less costly in the long-term than having to take weeks or even months off due to severe sickness later on. It also means that when we’re working, we are at our most productive and can feel satisfied that we’re recovered and not passing our illness on to anyone else.