When Should You Stay Home From Work (And Why)?
Most of you reading this probably have a lot on your plate – as in “too much to realistically ever get done” a lot. So, in order to try to make dent in this mountain of work you come in early, stay late, take work home, and even maybe work when you shouldn’t. Today, I want to go over three reasons you should stay home from work and why.
Okay, so last week was technically when I should have done my next article. But last week was also ACPA23 down in New Orleans. Sure, I might have just recorded it ahead of time, but I was so swamped – pun intended – that I just had to postpone until this week. I was going solo this time because it was registration week for Alicia. I felt great on Sunday when I left. I got there in plenty of time to set up my booth, wander the French Quarter, get a bite of dinner, and rest for Monday morning. Perfect!
Monday morning started out great. Our booth was in a prime location. If anything, I had the problem of too many people stopping by. And really the only problem there was it was hard to have that many individual conversations. Lol. But a few hours into the day, my voice started getting a little raspy. I’ve definitely over done it before when I’d stacked too many speaking opportunities in a row, so I was slightly concerned about losing my voice. As the day progressed, I also noticed that my sinuses were pretty inflamed and congested. Blerg. I knew my allergies were flaring up, and I was starting to feel not so great. But I did my best to stay hydrated and keep going.
After the Exhibit Hall was done for the day, I didn’t feel awesome, but decided a walk would get things moving. Plus, I needed another tasty Cajun meal. And sure enough, as I walked, I started feeling better. Huzzah! I got lunch, some coffee for my brother-in-law from Louisiana. I even stopped by one of those foot reflexology places in the hopes it would help my sinuses drain. But by then I just felt exhausted. Whatever benefit the walk gave me had worn off and I just needed to rest. I went back to the hotel and laid down for a while, but I wanted to make sure I went to the Senior Student Affairs Officers/Corporate Partner Reception that evening. I mean after all, that’s why I was there, to meet folks and spread the word about what we do.
I was still tired and at that point just didn’t feel great, but I got myself together and walked to the reception. I wasn’t worried about being contagious, but I did worry about whether my voice would get through the event. Well, when I got there, it was packed with people chatting away. I wasn’t sure how I would even navigate the room, much less tell people what Strengths University was about. I got a few appetizers and stood back to try to make a game plan. I talked to one person and that zapped what little energy I had left. I realized that staying wasn’t going to help me convince anyone to work with us. I decided to duck out and try to rally for Tuesday. The Exhibit Hall only went until 1PM, so I thought if I could just get a good night’s rest, I should be able to make it through and then I could rest until my 7:30PM flight home.
Okay, so before I finish my story, I want to jump into what I want to cover today. I’ve encountered so many folks who drag themselves into work even when it’s probably not a good idea. When I worked on campus, I remember people texting that they’d be late because they’re not feeling well BUT they’re coming in because of a meeting or a project they needed to get finished. I’d run into people in the hallway who just weren’t themselves, but they felt like they HAD to come into work. As a coach, I talk to folks who feel like they can’t take a day off even over the weekend or a vacation, because there’s too much to do. So today, I want to talk about three reasons you SHOULD stay home from work. And just to clarify, when I say “stay home from work” I do NOT mean work from home. I mean take the day – or even longer – off FROM working.
1) First, you should stay home if you’re sick. Now one of the nice things about COVID, is that when you felt sick with COVID-like symptoms, you pretty much had to go home. I mean I know plenty of people who stayed home and still tried to work. But even if you were working remotely, it was bad enough you were forced to take some time off. But FYI you don’t have to be COVID level sick to take the day off. Just not feeling well is enough. They’re called sick days, not “trying not to die” days.
2) Second, you should stay home if you need a mental health day. I debated whether or not to combine these under the label of not feeling well, but I decided to separate them. Why? Because even though we Higher Ed folks are mental health advocates, I’ve seen way too many folks telling themselves that they need to just suck it up and go in, when they really need a day off. A mental health day is just as vital as a “OMG I literally feel so terrible from this illness that I cannot work” day. I know some of you are in such a bad place mentally and emotionally that you also feel terrible. That is a reason to take the day off. And ideally before you get to terrible.
3) Finally, you should stay home if you have PTO or vacation banked up. I know I was guilty of this. HR would have to tell me that I was going to lose vacation days after the new fiscal year because I hadn’t taken any. This one isn’t just Higher Ed folks. On average, Americans get about 15 vacation days a year, but don’t take them all. Europeans on the other hand get an average of 21 days off and take all of them. Those are a part of your benefits package, so you are entitled to them. And quite frankly, you need them to be at your best.
I know that was a quick list of why you should stay home from work, but I think those are pretty straightforward. What I really want to focus on are the reasons why. Like I mentioned earlier, I see so many folks coming into work when they’re not feeling well, physically or mentally. And I’ll add that even if you wouldn’t characterize yourself as feeling unwell, that doesn’t mean you ARE well. Wellbeing consists of more than just not being sick.
So why is it important that you stay home in these situations? I went with 1, 2, 3 for when, so I guess I’ll go with the alphabet for the whys…
A) You aren’t as productive as you think you’re being when you aren’t taking care of your body and mind. Whether you’re physically ill, mentally exhausted, or just haven’t taken a break for a while, you’re not going to be at your best. I talk a lot about energy, so you know you only have a limited supply each day. Stress uses up a ton of your energy. And, remember, there are three types of stress – physical, chemical, and emotional. So, when I got my concussion, that was physical stress. So are my allergies. COVID or other viruses are chemical stress. Emotional stress is typically what costs us the most energy. When we talk about workplace stress, that’s what we’re talking about. The pressure we feel and the stories we have about the situations we navigate on a daily basis. That causes us emotional stress.
No matter which stresses you’re experiencing, it’s taking up a lot of your energy. That’s energy that can’t be focused on the meeting, project, or people you think will be missing out if you stay home. If you’re ill, your body needs energy to fight whatever bug you have. That’s why you typically are so tired. Your body is funneling more of your energy to your immune system and to heal. We’ve talked about the stress response – aka fight, flight, freeze, or appease – before. When you’re in fight or flight, your energy is diverted away from your brain and gut, so you can get ready to run away or fight. That means you make worse decisions, accomplish less, and have less patience with others. None of that equals you doing great work.
When you think, “No, I need to go in today no matter how I’m feeling. There’s work that must be done,” just know that it’s not going to be done very well. Staying home and resting for a day or so, will let you accomplish things quicker and better. And if you’re sick or injured, trying to divert energy into work activities will most likely end up with your recovery time taking longer. In fact, you might even get worse before you get better. All of this equals you ignoring your needs to do things not very well.
B) You might spread what you have to others. Okay, so if you’re sick, this may seem obvious – especially post-COVID. If you have a contagious illness, most of us are pretty good at staying home. It’s common courtesy and sense to avoid spreading a virus to other people. But, remember, you don’t have to take a sick day out of obligation to others. You can take one even if you’re not contagious.
And it’s not just viruses that can be contagious. Your energy, including your emotions, can be contagious. Have you ever been having a great day when you walk into a room where the energy is very heavy. Maybe it’s a meeting where everyone is anxious or stressed about the budget or a situation. All of a sudden, your mood shifts from “what a great day” to echoing their fears and worries. There may be certain people that give you the same reaction. Whenever you talk to them, you can feel your energy draining. That’s their energy impacting yours. When you go into work when your energy isn’t where it needs to be, you’ll either be more susceptible to other people’s moods OR you’ll negatively impact theirs.
And your actions can also be contagious! You probably know it better as role modeling. If you’re a supervisor, this is even more important. But even if you’re not currently supervising folks, people see what you do when you’re not feeling well – either mentally or physically. I think we all know everyone in this field needs more self-care and rest. Each time you don’t take the time you need and have earned off; you’re reinforcing a culture that’s focused on stress, overwork, and pushing through. By taking care of yourself and allowing yourself the rest and relaxation you deserve, you’re helping change the focus of this culture to one of wellbeing and setting healthy boundaries.
C) Now this isn’t an exhaustive list, but the final reason you should stay home from work is because this is not all on your shoulders. You are PART of an institution. When a student enrolls, they are not making a contract with YOU personally. It’s not YOUR responsibility to do everything within your power to give them everything they need. They have an agreement with the institution. There are many other departments and people who should be able to step in and offer the support students need if you aren’t there. Yes, you may have a certain role or relationship with specific students, but you taking time off only postpones when things happen. And if it’s an emergency situation, you should have systems that allow some flexibility for when folks aren’t available.
In your department or office, you are not the ONLY person responsible for making things work. And if you are an office or department of one, then you have other people in your department or division who should have your back. Now maybe you feel like you not coming in puts more stress on the folks who did some in that day, but that shouldn’t be true – at least not in the long run. Depending on your job, sure, maybe you not being there on one day means other folks will have to answer more questions or cover a meeting or event for you. But there should be some give and take within any office to allow for absences or just adapting to unique situations. Afterall, say you do go in but get pulled into an emergency situation about a student all day. You’d still be leaving your colleagues or team to manage without you. They’ll be able to handle it. And you’ll have other opportunities to cover for them when they need time off.
Quite frankly, if you feel like or have outright been told, that you need to be in the office everyday because folks can’t survive without you, then you need to change your procedures and systems. If you don’t go to a meeting, unless you’re the only one who can lead the meeting, guess what? They’ll have it without you. If you are responsible for leading it, they’ll postpone it. If you can’t be there for an event, guess what? Unless you’re the keynote speaker, it will happen without you. Will it have the same flair or be exactly the same? Maybe not, but that doesn’t matter nearly as much as you might think. I mean before you worked there, they survived without you. After you leave, they’ll survive without you – unless of course the reason you leave is because the college closed. Lol. Sigh. You are not responsible for everything.
Okay, so let’s get back to the end of my ACPA trip. Tuesday morning, I actually felt good. I packed, ate breakfast, and got to my booth early. I started my day grateful that my allergies had seemed to calm down. But pretty quickly my voice started wavering after talking to the first few folks. I started feeling congested again and felt even worse than Monday. I wrote out a script explaining my voice loss that I could show people when they stopped by, but strangely when the next few folks came by, my voice seemed to recover. But I had no idea how long it would last. What didn’t change was how terrible I felt and how quickly the energy was draining from me. And when I thought about having to wait around until my flight at 7:30PM, plus the two hours to fly home, I had no idea how I was going to make it. I was exhausted, felt like crap, and I could tell that my interactions were becoming more forced and well, less me.
I finally decided that these conversations did not showcase me at my best. And that’s who I needed to be to sell what we do. I checked the flight schedule and realized there was a flight at 2:10PM. Yes, it had a layover, but it would get me home two hours earlier. Even though I still had two hours left in the Exhibit Hall, I decided pushing myself wasn’t worth it. I needed stay home from work – or in this case go home from work. Trying to push through wouldn’t get me the results I wanted. In fact, it might even give people the wrong impression of me and what we do. My worn out, exhausted energy might be interpreted as a lack of passion. My ability to impact and help folks would be less if I stayed and tried to work while feeling miserable. So, I packed up my stuff and headed to the airport in the hopes I could change my flight. Long story short, I did. I paid $180 to get home two hours early and it was completely worth it. And most of you don’t have to pay to take a day off. You can do it for free, because it’s part of your benefits package.
Now as I when through the reasons to stay home and why, there were probably many stories you have about work that were triggered. In other words, your subconscious brain was arguing because you believe you should push through. When I was in New Orleans, I ran through some of those stories myself. “Anne, you can’t leave. ACPA is only once a year! You paid to be here!” Those stories made my stress even worse and kept me from honoring what I needed more quickly. I don’t have time to dig into all of the stories folks may have about taking time off here, but I hope I’ve given you some new ways to process your decision about going or staying home when you need it. People need time to rest and do NOTHING to be at their best. When you push yourself to keep going, whether you have an injury, illness, or are just exhausted, you’re not doing anyone any favors. No one wins. You need time off and you deserve time off. It’s part of your benefits package for a reason.
And if you’re being pressured into not using those benefits, you need to rethink whether you’re in a healthy environment. Your wellness or lack there of is going to be carried with you even when you leave that job, whether you get a new job, retire, or are forced to take a leave of absence because you’ve been so stressed. Ignoring your needs now, is going to cost you in your physical health, mental health, and your relationships. So, tap into what you need and take the time you deserve to make sure you’re okay. Invest in your wellness.
Stress, whether it be physical, chemical, or emotional, prevents you from doing your best work. And it keeps you from being well. Unless you plan on dying at your desk, you’re going to need your body and mind to be well as you continue the rest of your life. It’s easy to think, well if things would just change or if I can get through the next few weeks, things will get better. But you have the ability to better manage your stress now.
We just finished our newest online course, Empowered Self Care: Building Better Habits. You don’t always have the power to change how other people act or the policies at your institution, but you do have to power to change how you react to them. You have the power to learn how to change yourself and how you show up in different situations. That’s what can decrease your stress and increase your sense of wellbeing at work and at home.
Since it’s also tax season – another fun stressor – we’re giving you 25% off our new course through April 18th – aka this year’s Tax Day. There’s a link to the course in the show summary. Just use the code TAX25 and you’ll get 25% off. Use this opportunity to invest in your wellbeing and save a little money. Here’s the link to register https://strengthsu.kartra.com/page/empoweredselfcare
And until next time, stay strong.