When should you just stay home from work?

[originally posted on the Imagine Careers blog here]

Back in June, on a Sunday, my then-fiancé/now-husband was in a car accident with his brother and dad. Without boring you with too many details on the factors we dealt with post-accident, let me just assure you it was a stressful couple of days.

I went back to work on Tuesday, because I had already missed Monday and I felt like I couldn’t be out of the office another day. I didn’t feel up for being in the office, but I went anyway.

Mind you, I was very well set up to work from home. Or just not work at all. No one would have thought the worse of me if I had taken one more day to rest and straighten things out.

As you might expect, I snapped at a co-worker and one of our co-founders. I had never done that before, and haven’t done it since. I realized it would have been better for everyone involved if I had taken care of myself first and my work second.

But I’m not alone in feeling obligated to show up. “Presenteeism” is a growing problem. Or at least, our awareness of the problem is growing. As stated by the Harvard Business Review:

“In fact, presenteeism appears to be a much costlier problem than its productivity-reducing counterpart, absenteeism.”

That is, if you’re not contributing in meaningful ways, it’s better for your company if you stay home.

There was also this recent study showing workers in the UK have an average of 93% presenteeism while sick. This, to me, means companies need to be very vocally gracious with sick-days and similar circumstances so people do not feel obligated to benchwarm.

What do you think about this? Have you “committed” presenteeism recently? How does it affect you?

For my part, I quickly realized I should have just stayed home. I thought about the reasons why I felt obligated to show my face in the office when I could have worked just as hard — and probably much more effectively — from home, or just taken the day off and been 100% ready to come back on Wednesday.

This spurred a very necessary and very helpful process for our company to start looking at what our culture is like and what we want it to look like, and what steps we need to take to get there.

Because I’ll tell you what: presenteeism is a lose-lose situation.


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