We Polled 67 Women to Find out When (and If) They're Really Taking Sick Days

Mental health has entered the chat

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For years, an entrepreneurial, self-starting, self-sacrificing American worker was the ideal of every striving employee. Today, however, it’s more nuanced. Amidst post-pandemic hybrid work and widespread layoffs, a nationwide study suggests that US workers are tired of sacrificing their physical and mental health for their job and are actually taking the sick days their companies afford them.

Here at PureWow, we wondered how this looked for our readers, and if it’s true that millennials and Gen Z’ers are more likely to log them than their older coworkers. So, we polled 67 women, from 18 to 58, to find out how taking days off for illness functions in today’s busy world.

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Our three main findings? 1. We’re more likely to take work off for sick days than in pre-pandemic years. 2. Our respondents overwhelming acknowledged that mental health concerns factored into their sick days calculus. 3. Working from home actually complicates taking a sick day (at least in terms of vibes). Below, we’ll get into the nitty gritty.

Note: Most of the respondents polled reported paid sick leave as one of their employee benefits.

Post-Pandemic, We’re More Comfortable Taking Sick Days

More than 66 percent of respondents said they’re comfortable taking sick days, and 43 percent said they are more likely to take time off post-pandemic than they were before (28 percent reported that they have the same likelihood of taking a sick day today as they did pre-pandemic). Millennials were the most likely to report taking more now than four years ago and Gen X was the most comfortable taking time off for illness.

“Sick days used to be part of my total PTO for the year, so I would almost never ‘waste’ a PTO day on a sick day,” said one millennial respondent. “With unlimited PTO and the ability to WFH, I feel much more empowered to take sick days when I really need them.”

Mental Health Issues Are Health Issues

Overall, a large portion of our poll understood mental health to be a valid reason to step away from work if needed. Specifically, we asked respondents the reasons they take a sick day, with the option to choose as many as applies from the following:

  • Physically sick
  • Mental health
  • Fatigue
  • Family obligations
  • Working for someone else

41 percent of all respondents cited mental health as a reason to take off work. That's the same amount of women who cited fatigue, and more women than said they took off for family obligations and outside work. Only physical illness was cited more frequently as a reason to take off work. This focus on mental health showed up in answers across all generations—39 percent of millennials, 45 percent of Gen Xers and 50 percent Gen Zers said it's a valid excuse. And this squares with the American Psychological Association’s 2022 survey that found 71 percent of workers believe their employer is more concerned with their mental health than in the past and advocated for increased dialogue in the workplace around mental health.

“I try to have a very open dialogue with my manager when it comes to my mental health and work performance,” says one Gen Z respondent. “If I feel like I need to take a day to reset then I have no problem asking for it. I make sure to cover my work for that day and trust that my teammates will step in for me as needed, which is fortunately always the case.”

Work from Home Sick Days are Tricky

In our survey, we asked respondents to talk about a time when they wanted to take sick leave, but felt they couldn’t. Along with the expected reports of varying Covid outbreaks, we were struck by the number of respondents who cited their WFH setups as making taking sick days difficult, because it may be misperceived as a “day off.”

“Since working from home, I've felt the need to power through sick days more often than not,” said one millennial. “I'm lucky enough to not have to physically be at an office to do my job, so whether I'm sitting at my desk or downing cold medicine on the couch, I still try to power through.” A Gen X respondent agreed, saying she only takes sick leave “when I am too muddle-headed to work. I feel like since I work from home, it's easier for my taking sick leave to be seen as malingering.”

Bottom line? Women are taking their sick days and prioritizing their physical and mental health. But, as with so much in the post-pandemic hybrid-work world, it’s complicated.  

dana dickey

Senior Editor

Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space...