Do as I say… inconsistency alert! (taking sick leave)

I’m off sick. Last week I had a conversation with a member of my staff about prioritising their health over work since in the long term this is the most important thing. I also stuck up a cartoon in our office; a flow chart telling sick graduate students to go home rather than come in. When I say or do these things to people I really believe what I am telling them. So why, when I have been kyboshed by a very bad cold which has attacked my sinuses leaving me dizzy, weak and partially deaf, was it so hard for me to phone in sick this morning? It took a fairly forceful statement from my other half along the lines of “you can’t bang on about work-life balance and be too scared to take a day’s sick leave”. He has a point. But why is it so hard for me (and probably many other academics) to take sick leave?

Obviously others may have their own reasons, but here are mine:

  1. I know that when I’m off sick, I am getting behind on my endless to-do lists, including 4 major projects that I’m really keen on developing and have deadlines in May and.June. I’ll have to find the time from somewhere else… I don’t know where… .
  2. As Head of Academic Staff, I also tend to know when others are overworked or overwhelmed, and last week I said I would cover for two such individuals temporarily but now I can’t
  3. It’s hard to stop thinking about work, and for me that tends to be thinking about the negative and worrying parts rather than anything more constructive
  4. If I have meetings arranged, I don’t like letting people down and there will be a knock on effect later in the week/month
  5. Admitting I’m sick is admitting I cannot control everything… (loads in that one….)
  6. Our family life is generally so finely balanced, that someone being ill can throw everything out
  7. If I’m sick, then there is a chance that one of the small people will get sick too… which will mean more time off… (go to 1 above)

Of course if I was looking at this list presented to me by other people, I would be saying that:

  • The worst thing that can happen for you, work and your family is for you to get properly sick because you have pushed it too far. Get better now, and you’ll achieve more in the long run
  • No-one will thank you for being in and spreading germs around the office, especially in those meetings!
  • Nothing disastrous is likely to happen in the course of 2 days, and if it does, there are people who will cover for you because that is what this department is like.
  • If you absolutely must, you can read email from home to reassure yourself that nothing disastrous is happening (this probably would only be said to people with leadership roles who I know would recover better for 30 mins spent dealing with emails compared to fretting about stuff)
  • Everyone gets sick at some point – we are all human. Yes. Even you. We like humans.
  • Perhaps you’ve got too much on your plate at the moment… is there something that can be put on the shelf for the time being so that you can give yourself some recovery time?

This year I even identified the need for building in some resilience into all areas of my life. 3 months in to “Project Resilience” I think I still have a way to go to accepting and achieving this at least in terms of my working life and style. (And yes, I know that writing this while off sick is a bit questionable too…)

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