SURVEY SAYS: How Many Sick Days Have You Taken?

March 23, 2006 ( - Normal people, from time to time, do in fact get sick during the work week.

Some even manage to take sick days from work on those occasions. This week, we asked readers how many sick days they had taken in the past year – and whether any of them were days on which they weren’t really sick.

Ironically, our first response this morning came from a reader who said, “Believe it or not, I am reading NewsDash from home, sick, not goofing off.   First sick day in over a year.   And yes, I struggled with whether to stay home or not, but thought it best for my co-workers if I stayed away for a day.”

Still, nearly half ( 49.35% ) of this week’s respondents said they hadn’t taken any sick days in the past 12 months.   In fact, by a rough approximation of the responses, well over three-quarters of those hadn’t taken a sick day in years – in some cases, they had NEVER taken a sick day.   That group included readers such as the following:  “I don’t call in sick unless I am unable to stand up and that has rarely happened.”  Or the reader who said that their “Midwestern work ethic doesn’t allow me to take off sick when I’m not.   I’ve been trying to change that flaw in my character for years with no apparent progress.”  

There were a fair number who hadn’t taken time off, but probably should have, including the reader who said, I haven’t taken a ‘sick day’ when I wasn’t sick.   I have come to work when I shouldn’t have due to illness.”   Another noted that they had “been with my present company for 11 years and haven’t taken one sick day….how sick is that?”   Or the reader who simply said, 0 DAYS, worked sick.”I didn’t use any sick time last year.   I did drag myself in a number of times thinking I better save my sick days for when I’m “really sick,” said another.   “Not to say I haven’t been sick,” noted one, “but I could still walk and breathe.”    Another explained, “I’ve taken eight hours total S/L in the 35+ years I’ve worked for the state of Ohio, two four-hour blocks to bring newborns home from the hospital.”   However, lest you think we just had a lot of folks insisting on bringing their germs into the workplace (one reader did say, “Even when I am sick I go to work so I can make everyone else feel as bad as I do!”), there were a number who simply appeared to avoid being sick, including this reader; “I have not taken any sick days in the last year AND I have not come to work sick.”  

Among those who had taken some time off, roughly 16% had taken one day (one of these who had taken that day for a sick child, noted, “I would prefer people who are sick to stay home – I do – I just haven’t been sick (knock on wood)),”while10% had taken two (among these, one reader stated, “Last year I was out sick for a mere two days due to flu.   Dr. said to take a full week, but since the employees like getting paid and I was the one to process, I dragged myself to the office.”), and 14% had taken just three (including a reader who said, “And my co-workers thought they would be planning my funeral because I hadn’t taken a sick day in five years prior.”  

Roughly 5% had taken four or five days, and just short of 6% had taken six days or more – generally due to extenuating circumstances.   On the other hand, a number of readers noted that their sick days weren’t necessarily due to personal illness (the accumulation of sick leave and vacation time in the form of Paid Time Off, or PTO, was prevalent).   As one reader noted, “Something mysterious happens when you have children – you lose the ability to be sick yourself.   I honestly can’t remember the last time I took a day off because I didn’t feel well, but I probably took four days this year because of sick children.”   Another echoed that sentiment, noting, I missed three days last year for ‘sickness.’   Unfortunately, it was my children who were sick – not me.”  

Then there were those who were perhaps home, but not exactly recuperating, including the reader who said, “I have taken a total of ONE sick day in the last year.   Yes, I was sick; however, I sat at my home computer and went through work e-mails.   I guess you could call it more of a telecommuting day….”   Another said, I don’t think I could call in sick if I wasn’t; not really worth the mess on my desk I would face when I returned to work.”

“Mental health” days were relatively common.   One noted, “I did take one ‘mental health day’ to work at home a few weeks ago; it was get out of the office or go crazy day.   I accomplished a lot at home that day since I didn’t waste time plotting the torture of my staff.”   Another said, Since I am the entire Internal Audit department for my company, it’s hard to justify taking sick days.   I just label them mental health days.   For instance, it’s a case of I need a day off to keep me from going postal on co-workers.   That usually works!”  Still another observed, “I took two sick days when I was actually sick.   However, the longer I work here, the thought of taking a mental health day sounds better with each passing week.”

Additionally, there were a number of particularly good VERBATIMS this week, including:

“One day – because I was sick of working!”

“On advice from counsel, I wish to exercise my 5th amendment right not to incriminate myself.   Our company monitors e-mail. (hee hee hee)”

“Nevin – given that most e-mails are subject to HR review, the respondents will fall into one of two categories: the dishonest or the stupid.” (Editor’s Note – many of them ARE in HR.)

“I’ve taken one sick day in the past year, and, yes, I was really sick. It’s been MANY years since I took a ‘sick’ day when I wasn’t really sick – and not long after that I quit that job!”

“Exactly seven years and one month into my working life, I have never used a sick day.   I have come to work sick, bleeding, limping and, most surprisingly to those who know me, on National Goof-Off Day (which attentive readers will recall was yesterday).”

“I come to work bleeding out the eyes so I can use the sick days for fun.”

  But this week’s Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who noted simply, ” I haven’t taken any sick days in the past; but I should have.”

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!