Dear Millennials: Stay Home From Work When You're Sick!

© Andrey Popov / Adobe Stock

Sick woman at desk

© Andrey Popov / Adobe Stock

Alex Wilson
Alex Wilson
June 15, 2024 at 8:22PM UTC
As we transition into the colder months year after year, it’s always a good time to remind professionals that it’s okay to take time off if you’re feeling sick. Based on a new study, one demographic needs this reminder more than the rest — millennials.
According to a new study by CityMD, millennials (those who are ages 18 to 34) are more likely to leave their house when they’re sick. About three-quarters of millennials admitted to venturing outside when they were sick, meaning they’re much more likely to potentially expose their colleagues to illness. Only 56 percent of older adults admitted to doing so.
Dr. David Shih, executive vice president of strategy, health and innovation at CityMD, said millennials particularly need the reminder during flu season because they tend to gravitate towards large, urban areas. 
“Most millennials are young and healthy,” Dr. Shih said to CBS News. “They may underestimate how long it takes to recover. When we have a large population who are out and about in public spaces with the flu, there is a high exposure.”
It’s understandable why the U.S. population need a reminder to take their sick days. A recent survey by Glassdoor shows that the average U.S. employee only takes about half of their allotted vacation time. This statistic hasn’t changed since Glassdoor began researching it in 2014.
Regardless of whether it’s for vacation or illness, millennials tend to avoid taking time off of work altogether because the accompanying guilt. Jake Tully, a 25-year-old creative lead, explained that he neglects to take time away from work due to the burden it would place on his co-workers.
“I feel incredibly lucky to lead excellent and competent groups of people,” Tully said to Forbes. “I don’t ever want to put those I manage in a position where my prolonged absence hinders their day-to-day or makes their lives more difficult.”
That difficulty is felt by employees on the bottom of the corporate ladder, regardless of how their boss spends time out of the office. Millennial Taylor Palmer knows that taking time off of work — especially after starting a new job  — could impact one’s professional identity.
“I don’t want people to think that I’m lazy or that I’m a slacker, I’m not,” Palmer said. “I just transitioned into a new job, and my focus is on making the best impression possible. Taking time off of work right after I start, regardless of what it’s for, could hurt me in the long run.”
But is that perception actually true? Andreea Ciulac writes that when you show up to work sick, your colleagues aren’t looking at you as a dedicated employee.
“Next to ‘the guy who heats up leftover fish in the break-room microwave,’ a sick employee is the most disliked person at every office,” Ciulac wrote for The Chicago Tribune. “People don’t see you as a hard worker in that moment; they see you as selfish. They think you cam in so you didn’t burn a vacation day.”
Even though it seems like this is a clear case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” there’s an easy solution: take days off! While it might cause you some short-term stress, it will set you up for long-term success.
“After I take a sick day, I sit down with my boss once I’m back in office, review everything I missed and what I need to do to catch up,” Palmer said. “It’s a simple solution, but an effective one.”
Other millennials suggested a flexible work-from-home schedule and streamlined methods of communication (like Slack) as reasons why you should take advantage of your sick days. 
“If staying in the know helps you relax when you’re out of office, there are tons of ways you can stay connected,” Palmer said. “You just need to commit to not showing up to work. Give yourself time to relax!”

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