Opinion: Sick days


If we are lucky, they don’t happen very often. In fact, some people go years without a single one. A 2017 study released by California-based Integrated Benefits Institute holds that the U.S. spends $227 billion per year on sick days and the loss of productivity that goes along with them. 

Interestingly, the expense for illness is not distributed equally across all employee classes. For example, office workers cost more than those in the service industry. Moreover, this particular study only addressed private companies with paid sick leave policies. The actual numbers for all Americans must be much higher. 

It is difficult to measure the cost to the individual in lost wages, position and opportunity. The work rarely goes away and awaits our return. We fear that we are burdening our co-workers in our absence. Are they resenting carrying the extra load? Have we asked too much from them? 

To be sure, when we are ill, we should stay home. It is better for us. And, it is better for those who work with us. Yet, understanding the line between too sick to be productive and just sick enough to be annoyed is more of an art than a science. Sure, a feverous contagion should be a clear signal to stay in bed. But, what about a sneeze here and there? Is there a time when hanging on may be better than taking off? Or, are we fooling ourselves in some left-over echo to our collective national work ethic? 

For many of us, working from home can bridge the gap. We stay productive, at least to some degree, while not exposing our colleagues to our incapacitation. Alas, for many, going to the office is the only option. But, are we doing anybody a favor by trying to be a hero? Probably not.