Home Health & Wellness The Stigma of Calling in Sick: More Than Half of Brits Have Gone to Work Despite Feeling Ill

The Stigma of Calling in Sick: More Than Half of Brits Have Gone to Work Despite Feeling Ill

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More than half of British people have admitted to going into the office when they were feeling ill, rather than calling into work to request a day off. 

Bolton digital marketing agency, The Audit Lab, asked the British public if they had ever felt too ill to work but gone in anyway, and an overwhelming 56% of survey respondents said they felt obligated to go into the office.

The study found that men were less likely to head to work – just over half (51%) of men said they had gone in despite feeling ill, which is still a majority – but shows there is less of stigma amongst guys. 

On the other hand, a huge 60% of women said they had gotten through the working day even when they felt ill.

It seems that the stigma around calling in sick is well and truly alive in British culture – is the pressure of #careergoals and #workhustle getting to us this much? That we have to soldier on and work despite feeling like death warmed up?

And personal well-being aside, the survey results are incredibly worrying from an office hygiene and safety standpoint. With the COVID-19 pandemic far from over, could the toxic hustle culture actually be a contributing factor to the spread of the virus? If people are too scared to request a day off when they have symptoms – which are incredibly similar to that of the common cold – could they be unknowing spreaders?

Claire Crompton, co-founder and director of The Audit Lab believes the stigma needs to end from the top down, especially in the aftermath of COVID-19:

‘I can certainly remember the anxiety over that morning phone call when I was first starting out in the working world. Even when I was really obviously ill, I felt like I wouldn’t be believed. But now I’m on the other side of that phone, I try really hard to not make it anxiety-inducing. Companies and loyal staff are built on trust – if you don’t trust your own staff to manage their own health and workload, how can you expect them to want to stay with you in the long-run?

‘And especially now, given the global pandemic, you’d think employers would be a lot more understanding about needing to call in sick. It’s no longer “just a cold”, and people shouldn’t be scared to request a day off when there’s a lot more at risk now.’

To find out more about the impact on mental health, we put the question to the people, to ask what was so off-putting about the morning phone call to request a sick day.

Tasmin Lofthouse, freelance digital market and blogger at Grandiose Days, says the idea of making that phone call to work gave her serious anxiety:

‘I used to dread phoning in sick whenever I had a migraine out of fear that I wouldn’t be believed. I would always worry that my direct line manager would think I was lying about my migraine – even though, I’m sure that would never have been the case! I think this fear of calling in sick, for me, stems from worries that people think migraines are “just a headache”. I’d be so anxious about phoning in sick that on some occasions, I’d force myself to go into work and make the hour-long motorway journey even when experiencing aura symptoms and struggling to see. Something that I now realise is both dangerous and stupid!’

Wellness blogger, writer and illustrator, Chloe Quinn from Nyxie’s Nook, says her anxiety about calling in sick stems from being a kid:

‘I’ve always had anxiety about calling in sick to work. As a kid we rarely got sick days, we were sent to school, and then if we were sick enough usually sent home. This extended into my work life. I remember going to work with mumps as a teenager, working through horrible menstrual cramps, and going into work with a terrible flu (on three separate occasions, in three separate work places). I was more anxious about calling in sick than I was about going to work sick. For years I believed that my job was more important and that I would be commended for coming in while clearly ill and in pain.    

‘The phone call was one thing, but I also worried about what others would be thinking. Are they thinking I’m faking? I’m useless? My mum used to get angry at us sitting on our phone or laptop while home sick, stating that if anyone saw us on Facebook they would think “there is nothing wrong with them, why are they off”. I’ve completely ghosted all social media when sick just to “prove” it.’

Joe Fisher, SEO freelancer at OptiClick said:

‘I’d say the main reason that calling in sick makes me anxious is the next day – the varying reactions from colleagues – I never know what to expect. People you get along with tend to have banter with you and joke about you skiving off, whereas others seem to shoot you looks of disappointment like a begrudged parent.

‘I think there is such a stigma around being sick because of traditional values that suggest millennials are lazy, whereas I just think the way we work is changing. Remote working is becoming more prevalent, which is a good thing in my eyes.’

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