Why Sometimes Taking a ‘Sick Day’
(Even if You’re Not Really Sick) Is Important
Ferris Bueller made a really smart move when he decided to take his legendary “sick day” 30 years ago. Of course pretending you have food poisoning probably isn’t the wisest choice for getting some time off work if you do it often, but taking an occasional mental health day is actually really good for you.
According to a recent ZocDoc survey conducted by Kelton Global, nearly two in five Americans are willing to make up a reason to get out of work — Millennials in particular — and almost 70 percent of those people would pretend to be sick. But if you’re one of those people, don’t feel guilty just yet: Part of avoiding real illness might actually be faking it once in a while. If you’re working non-stop and don’t make the time to actually take care of your physical and mental health, it’s only going to hurt you in the end.
“People aren’t taking vacations. As one person described to me, they used to think working was like running a marathon; you get to the end, then there’s a break. But it’s really more like running until you drop,” says Brandon Smith, career expert behind The Workplace Therapist. “If that’s the case, a lot of experts are thinking of it like interval training. You have to carve out times to give your body, mind, and emotions some rest. Taking a mental health day is a great way to do that.”
How Personal Days Help Keep You — And Your Career — Going Strong
Smith says there are two main reasons to take a personal day, and both are vital for your overall wellbeing.
“Taking time off work allows us to take a step back and recharge, but only if you use it properly. It’s also a really great career management strategy,” Smith says. “If we don’t take a break, we’re like a tea kettle — the steam continues to build. If we don’t get the day off to release it, you run the risk of losing composure and snapping at a boss, coworker, or customer.”
That moment of distress can (obviously) really affect your career.
“Before you know it, you’re either out of work or you’ve essentially stuck a ceiling on your career path,” he says. “People will remember when you flipped out.”
How Much Time Off Do You Need?
It might take more than one day to really reap the benefits of being away from work. Don’t worry, though — Smith has a formula that works without hurting your career.
“It depends on the person, but it also depends on your willingness to disconnect,” Smith says. “It takes 24 to 36 hours to start to get the benefits from time off. That is, if you’re distancing yourself from the things that are causing you stress and not sitting there attached to your phone or laptop.”
His advice? Because it can be difficult to take two-week vacations, Smith recommends three-day weekends once every quarter. It gives you something to look forward to, and you only have to take one actual day off work. You’re happy, and your boss is happy, too.
What to Do During Your Day Off
“Also, find a way to get back positive emotions. Go watch a movie that’s funny or hang out with friends that make you laugh,” he says. “That’s a good cleanse for any stress or negative emotions you might have.”
But What if Your Boss Won’t Leave You Alone?
If you can’t even escape the office on your time off, there is hope.
“That’s not uncommon, but you’re going to have to train your boss to respect your boundaries. You just have to be very intentional about it,” Smith says. “Remind them that you have time off coming up and ask what you can be doing now to make sure they have the support they need while you’re away. First mention it a month in advance, then remind them every week that you’re getting close to it. Then there’s no excuse. If it doesn’t work out, that’s when you need to start doing the job search.”
Worst-case scenario? Try out ZocDoc’s handy dandy sick-day excuse generator. Simply put in your name and hit enter to get the weirdest doctor’s note you’ve ever seen.
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