Why we don’t take sick days




Published Date: 21 Apr 2016

Presentation Date: 21 Apr 2016

SicknessSick workers who turn up at the office are costing the Australian economy $34 billion a year. So why don’t we take sick days? Is it as simple as our boss makes us feel guilty? Or is the real sickness stopping us taking a day off a sickness in our hearts? Andrew Laird (Dean, Marketplace Institute) reflects. This article was first published on the Life@Work website.

Recently I had two days off work sick. Like many people I know, I took them reluctantly. If I could have pushed on I would have. But given how unwell I was I had no choice.

It was while lying in bed in a dazed, sickly stupor that this article popped up in my Twitter feed (scrolling through Twitter was about the most I could handle). According to a new report, sick workers who turn up at the office are costing the Australian economy $34 billion a year. That’s billion with a B. As the report stated, “’Presenteeism’ costs businesses money through lost productivity, and because sick staff end up infecting their colleagues. Presenteeism – employees attending work when they are unwell or in some way incapacitated – costs employers significantly more than absenteeism”.

Reading the article, it got me thinking, why don’t we take sick leave? For myself, one reason I don’t is because I think of all the work which will pile up in my absence, only to have to be dealt with when I return. For others it’s perhaps a sense of loyalty to co-workers, feeling sorry for them having to take on extra work in our absence. For others still, perhaps our employer just makes us feel so guilty for calling in sick that we figure it’s easier to take a few cold and flu tablets and just “soldier on”.

But I wonder if there’s another reason which lurks below the surface. That the real sickness stopping us taking a day off is a sickness in our hearts.

Since the beginning of creation humanity has had a problem, the problem of seeking to put ourselves on equal terms with God. And our reluctance to take sick leave might just be another example of this, deluding ourselves into thinking that somehow, like God, we too are omnipotent (all powerful).

But we’re not God. We can’t do everything. We can’t constantly “soldier on”. We do need rest. We do get sick. And we fool ourselves if we think otherwise.

One of my favourite verses in Psalm 119 (the longest of all the Psalms) is verse 71. “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees”. God in His kindness and mercy sometimes allows sickness and affliction to come upon us so as to humble us and to remind us of our humanity. When He does, the wise course of action would be to stop and receive this reminder, rather than ignore it and keep trying to push on.

There’s a well-known saying, “Graveyards are full of indispensable people”. We kid ourselves if we think that our work is indispensable, that the world (or at least my workplace) needs me if it’s to keep spinning. But it is only our sovereign, all-powerful God whose work is indispensable. We do well to remember this, whether we are healthy or unwell, but perhaps especially when we’re tempted to “soldier on” next time we get sick.


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