Calling in Sick to Work is Not What it Used to Be

Calling in Sick to Work

Calling in Sick to Work is Not What it Used to Be

Following generational changes, a world pandemic, and mental health advocacy, “sick days” are not what they used to be. For a long time, Baby Boomers and older generations often took pride in “muscling through” sickness at work. However, Millennials and Gen Z (the generations who vocalized the importance of a positive work-life balance) have shifted what calling in sick to work means. 

In today’s world, calling in sick means:  “I am off the clock. I am not working.” Period. Is this message really all that new? For some, no.  But for others, it’s revolutionary and outright confounding. 

Remember when we all used to have to show up to work? In a pre-pandemic world, calling in sick meant, “I’m not coming in.” For knowledge-workers, this could mean, “I’m not feeling great, but I can still work.” This is a mixed message – not coming in could mean someone is too sick to work or they could be contagious but still able to work.  What’s a sick day and what’s a work from home day? Who decides? And, this is why managers are confused and why employees are frustrated.  

Let’s see if we can provide some clarity. 

Calling in Sick to Work Statistics - Gusto

How Calling in Sick to Work Has Changed

According to data from Gusto from 300,000+ small-to-medium-sized businesses, employee sick time has increased exponentially post-pandemic. Data shows that employees ages 25-34 are most likely to take sick leave, although all age groups have collectively shown an increase. 

Evidence shows that calling in sick to work isn’t just about having a cold or the flu, but could be due to other reasons – such as mental health, family issues, or stress.  

How Business Owners and Managers Can Adapt to This Change

According to Wall Street Journal, several states have passed laws to allow employees to take sick days to tend to family members and personal needs. “More companies also provide unlimited sick time than did a decade ago, so fewer employees feel they have to scrimp,” said David Setzkorn, disability practice leader at Sedgwick.

Offering unlimited PTO (sick days and vacation days) is one of many ways business owners and managers can demonstrate their care about their employees’ well-being – both physical and mental. When employees know that they don’t need to save up sick days solely for physical ailments, they are able to take time off when they truly need it. Additionally, when employees aren’t expected to come into the office (wherever that office may be) and “power through” illness, they have the ability to recharge, and take care of themselves. Employees work better when they are part of a work culture that understands the importance of a work-life balance. 

Benefits of Respecting Sick Time

When employers acknowledge an employee’s need for a sick day, there are a variety of collateral benefits.  

  • Trust from Employees – A workplace that honors an employee’s need for sick time receives more trust and respect from its employees over those who expect them to work through illness. Showing care for your employees and their families is essential for a happy work environment.
  • Higher Work Production – Employees who take necessary breaks show higher production at work versus those who work through sickness physically and mentally. Presenteeism is a condition that which the person is physically present, but is not in a good state to work mentally. Allowing for breaks lets the person recharge and work more productively. Overall performance should always outweigh attendance.
  • Promotes a Positive Work Culture – A positive work culture starts from the top. We are in a day and age where a work-life balance is highly sought after. When this is promoted by owners and managers, employees see that they “get it.” It’s important for employees to see their managers and leaders also taking PTO.

Calling in Sick to Work Has Changed – Let’s Adapt 

Our employees need a work culture that supports their well-being. This is not to let employees take advantage of their time off but rather to give them time to recharge and produce their best work. Calling in sick to work is a way that an employee says they are not feeling well (either physically or mentally) and are unable to be productive. Taking care of oneself should be encouraged! Putting the well-being of our employees and their families results in overall happier, more productive workers.

About the Author


Skylar is TalentFront’s former Recruiting Manager. She left the firm to pursue a graduate degree in integrative health. She is a certified personal trainer and certified health coach through the American Council on Exercise. She just completed her MS in Nutrition and Integrative Health at Maryland University of Integrative Health. She is a student member of the American Nutrition Association. She is a guest contributor to TalentFront’s blog.