GradLife McGill

Are you sick? Here are 4 strategies to take time off

Tell me if this sounds familiar: on a weekday morning, you wake up in rough shape even though you went to bed at a reasonable hour. You’re tired down to your bones, and your first deep breath of the day tickles a cough out of your sore throat. You can just feel it: you are sick.

What do you do next?

I’m ashamed to admit it, but when I’m unwell I often ignore my symptoms, tell myself I can’t possibly miss a day of work, and go to the lab as usual. This is a bad decision on  many levels: I’m more likely to make mistakes when I’m ill; ignoring my instinct to rest and powering through my day increases how long I’ll be sick for; and since whatever made me sick is probably contagious, I’ll be exposing all of my coworkers to this pathogen.

This behaviour is especially problematic now that flu season is under way. It’s hard to tell from symptoms alone whether you have a cold (which is unpleasant but usually a mild infection) or the flu – which is unpleasant and can also cause fatal infections in vulnerable people such as children or the elderly. This year’s circulating virus strains have had widespread activity in Montreal since the beginning of the year, and have been causing more hospitalizations than usual, making it more important than ever to stay home and NOT spread the virus around if you’re sick.

Despite knowing how important it is to stay home when I’m sick, I find it really difficult to do. And from the sheer number of coughs and sneezes I hear on a daily basis, I suspect I’m not alone. I’ve been thinking about why it can be hard to take sick days, and for each barrier to taking time off to rest, here are strategies to overcome them:

Barrier 1: Feeling the need to work TODAY.
“I have deadlines/presentations/a thesis that needs data!”

Barrier 2: Having time-sensitive work to do in the lab.
“My cells/samples are going to die/spoil/explode?!”

Barrier 3: Not wanting to disturb anyone else’s schedule.
“I don’t want to impose!”

Barrier 4: Fear of looking like a slacker.
“My labmates come in no matter what!”


Inertia is a powerful force; if we were looking forward to going to work, it can be difficult to change our plans and stay home and rest instead. But for our own long-term health and productivity – and for the health of everyone around us! – let’s all stay home when we’re sick. The work will still be there for us once we get better.

Banner picture by LoggaWiggler // pixabay