5 good reasons to stay at home when you’re sick

Time off when sickThink you should ‘soldier on’ and go to work when you are sick? Wrong! Here are five reasons you should stay home when you are unwell or recovering from illness.

There are a variety of reasons we often go to work when unwell. However, you are not doing anyone – yourself, your colleagues or the wider community – any favours by ‘soldiering on’. That is what sick days are for.

For those of us who feel guilty about taking time off work when unwell, here are five reasons you should rest and recover at home.

1. To avoid making your colleagues sick

By going to work when you are sick, you increase the risk of spreading illness to those around you. Consider the burden this creates in the workplace as more and more colleagues become sick.

2010 study undertaken in the healthcare sector highlighted the health risks of people continuing to work or returning to work too soon after illness. Researchers looked at an incident involving the spread of gastroenteritis in a nursing home, which affected 50 residents and staff. The study demonstrated that it only takes one person to significantly spread an infection, which then extends the duration of the outbreak.

According to Dr Alan Hampson, Chairman of the Australian Influenza Specialist Group, you are generally considered to be at greatest risk of catching the flu from someone when you are within a metre of the sick person, though there is evidence that infectious flu-containing particles can travel even further. When you consider how closely many people work alongside colleagues, the risk of infection in the workplace is alarmingly high. 

2. To stop the spread of illness

It is not only your colleagues who may be affected by your illness: how many other people do you come into contact with each day – on your coffee run, picking up work supplies or on your commute to and from home? The recommendation that people stay at home with influenza is “really targeted to preventing spread”, says Dr Hampson. He adds that while young, fit people can recover relatively quickly, other demographics – such as the elderly – may incur more serious complications. “Influenza infection can predispose people to heart attacks, strokes and other bad outcomes,” he says. 

3. To recover properly 

By attending work, you could exacerbate your health problems and later have to take a longer period of sick leave to recover.

“It’s important to stay home from work when sick with the flu to rest and give yourself the best chance of recovery,” says Dr Hampson. “It is generally recommended that people stay home at least 24 hours after becoming free of fever without taking analgesics,” he says.

Painkillers suppress symptoms but do not aid recovery, according to Dr Hampson, and it is therefore irresponsible for people to suggest you can carry on with your daily activities in this scenario. Returning to work too soon can also have serious health implications. In the case of the flu, Dr Hampson explains that it can lead to a number of other problems as your immune system is suppressed and your respiratory tract is left susceptible to infection.

4. To avoid wasting time at work

By going to work when sick, you are not working to your full capacity. “It has been shown that the efficiency of workers is compromised (by 20 to 40 percent) when they are ill with influenza,” explains Dr Hampson. “One study suggested that it could be the equivalent of mild alcohol intoxication affecting a worker’s thinking and reflexes. In other words, they are likely to make mistakes.”

UK study in 2010 found that ‘sickness presence’ (or ‘presenteeism’ – continuing to work when unwell) accounted for more working time lost than absenteeism. The study also found that going to work when sick had a more negative impact overall than simply taking those days off.

5. To minimize disruption for your employer 

More time off work due to not allowing your body to recover properly, more sick co-workers and none of you working efficiently is not good for business. Research undertaken in 2010 indicated that the global cost of presenteeism that year (specifically relating to attending work when ill) was US$180 billion – surpassing that of absenteeism, which was US$118 billion.


So, next time you are feeling under the weather, consider staying in bed.


Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.