More than half of British people have admitted to feeling obliged to go to work when sick. Should 2021 finally be the end of the ‘work till you drop’ culture?
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 per cent of survey respondents admitted to going into work unwell.
The study found a huge 60 per cent of women said they had soldiered through the working day even when they felt ill. Do men merely have more confidence to make that morning phone call to HR? Perhaps women feel more pressured to prove themselves in their scaling of the career ladder, so they don’t want anything to hinder their progression.
Is the pressure of the hustle getting to us this much? It’s time to realise that we don’t need to burn ourselves out in order to be considered as having ‘succeeded’ through this pandemic. And it’s definitely time to stop saying we’re okay when we aren’t.
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: “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?”
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“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,” Crompton adds.
To find out more about calling in sick’s impact on someone’s 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 her childhood: “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 workplaces). 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 or 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,” Quinn adds.
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.”
“There is such a stigma around being sick because of traditional values that suggest millennials are lazy, but the way we work is changing. Remote working is becoming more prevalent, which is a good thing in my eyes.”
Many months ago, B.C (before COVID, as I like to say), I, like so many of us, always had my heart set on the milestones; the ones that have been entrenched into us from day one. Milestones we were taught we must reach in order to succeed at life. Starting with GCSEs then moving swiftly on to A levels, university degrees, followed by a good job. Let me rephrase that; followed by your first ‘proper job’. Here’s how I finally pushed the career woman off her ladder, and because of it, she’s never been happier.
These jobs usually allow you to develop practical skills and gain experience to begin this initial part of your career. But somewhere down the line, a lot of us start to feel helpless because it turns out, the job isn’t really what we dreamt we would be doing. The chances are you feel undervalued, underrepresented or misplaced. Overcome with restlessness and a fast-approaching quarter-life crisis, you wonder how following all the how-to steps have left you feeling lost.
We are all undoubtedly products of our environment and our generation is told that our careers represent who we are. To live the London lifestyle is to become a part of an all-encompassing, infinite optical illusion with new patterns emerging and blending into each other every second of the day. You become absorbed—and you must keep up. The competition is fierce, now more than ever, and it is everywhere. It’s invigorating, which is probably why we are so drawn to it. Queue the universally-dreaded, predictable pre-drinks question ‘So what is it you do?’.
This kind of competition has its downsides as you can certainly be made to feel inadequate if you are not ‘keeping up’. London doesn’t care how far you’ve come because it wants you to keep going and not take your eyes off the ball for one second. Throughout the hiring-freeze rut, I’ve had moments of feeling like a total failure for not having found myself a shiny new job as if this was the basis for my capabilities, self-worth or intelligence. It was as though, without having those words that made up a job role, the image I had of myself had been slightly shattered.
With such huge emphasis in our culture on being underpaid and overworked in order to achieve our goals, what is it that we are actually achieving? A high salary or experience in an industry you’re passionate about? But what if you’re not experiencing either, because like so many others, you’re just starting out? Why should we, at this stage, be continually forcing ourselves through fear-inducing jobs or striving for ‘the next thing’ when we haven’t even taken the time to check ourselves?
How can you be even sure of what it is you want if your judgement is always clouded by a relentless work culture? Does this lifestyle allow enough space for genuine, authentic thought? I highly doubt it.
Most of us have grown up subject to the unrealistic, burdening expectation to have to know exactly what we want in life from such a young age. Or as a friend of mine likes to say “just choose something and stick with it,” translating into the very British concept of enduring adversity because ultimately, it will pay off. I call bullshit and my response to this argument is always the same. How am I supposed to know what I want or even what I’m good at, without having experienced it?
While a career is an element of life, it is not our whole life. We are made to feel like the career ladder is everything yet there is no evidence to suggest that this is a reflection of our truest selves. In the same way that it would be inappropriate to say that someone who is single is in any way ‘incomplete’ or ‘lacking’ by not being in a relationship, it seems absurd that a person would judge another entirely on one element of their lives.
It’s no wonder the side hustle took off as it did when people are starting to realise that the career chase isn’t going to scratch every itch they have, such as the creative kind. Still, it has been instilled into our wiring that attaining the perfect, sophisticated job will complete us. In the same way that women ‘should’ feel maternal, we all ‘should’ want to be career people.
I implore those placing such an emphasis on their career alone to critically consider why they feel that way. Does this come from within themselves or is it possible we have been conditioned to feel like this? If one’s job is one’s dream and purpose then, by all means, keep going. My concern is that we have been systematically taught to chase an invisible and false sense of security, status and value that supposedly goes hand in hand with a so-called career. There is no miraculous end to a system perpetuating the notion that a person’s worth is determined by their job role because there will always be a better job. Or as our old pal St Augustine put it, “Desire hath no rest.”
Don’t be afraid to unashamedly cut the ties that link your sense of self to your career. As individuals, we are continuously changing and it would be ignorant to suggest that any job would ‘fix’ the way in which we interpret and face the world. After all, it’s as much about handling things as it is about having things. I have now dimmed the spotlight on the glamorised career woman image in my head as I’ve concluded that it is crucial to remember that you are not your career. Just as you are not your sexuality, your race, your worst days or your mistakes. Let that be something we all keep in mind as the UK Kickstart jobs scheme finally opens for application…