Working When Sick: It’s Time to Flip the Script

by Lydia Johnson, M.S. (Certified Holistic Career Coach)

You’re bleary-eyed from a feverish, sleepless night of raspy mouth breathing.

You’ve collected all the tissues, painkillers, decongestants, and cough drops you can find in your house, hoarding them like a dragon with its trove of gold.

You’re sick… and if you have kids, it’s for what feels like the 1000th time this year.

You drag yourself to your laptop (or worse, drive yourself into the office to get everyone else sick), knowing you’ll be barely functional today but showing up for the daily grind anyway.

🛑 Stop right there…

Why, exactly, are you working when sick today?

No, seriously— let’s get specific.

Are you performing a life-saving emergency surgery that couldn’t be rescheduled? (And if you’re a doctor, we’d really rather you not be vomiting while doing surgery on us, thank you).


Oh, then perhaps you have a once-in-a-lifetime conversation that absolutely has to happen today and cannot be rescheduled.


Oh, you have a… typical workday?

Yes, it’s a busy, jam-packed day, and I know it’s inconvenient to reschedule those ten meetings.

But honestly— why exactly are you working when you’re sick?

How sick must you be to give yourself a day to rest?

Let’s look at this another way: How sick does your kid have to be to get the day off from school to rest? (Ironically, if you’re both sick, they probably got you sick AND are staying home from school today while you attempt to work and parent simultaneously.)

When did you learn that your health is less important than your output?

When were you planning on sitting your kid down and telling them that the behavior you’re modeling is what they need to internalize so they grow up to be good little compulsive overachievers?

I know I’m being very snarky. I’m (kinda) sorry.

My goal isn’t to be mean, it’s to help you step outside of your own internalized narratives of what a “successful,” “good,” and “productive” member of society is, and most of us are so damn cemented in our ways it takes a bit of a shock (or snark) to let us see a different perspective.

I know you have important work to do.

But your health is important too. It’s more important than that meeting, right?

So if your urge to work when sick is simply unchecked, evangelical work ethic, internalized capitalism, and basing your self-worth off of your constant productivity gone awry (can those things not be awry?), here’s your invite to flip the script:

What if, instead of asking yourself if you’re sick enough to take the day off, you ask yourself: Am I well enough to work?

You can use me as your scapegoat: Your career coach said you had to take the day off.

But wait, there’s more to working when sick

As sick as our tendency to work when under the weather is (punny, eh?), this problem is bigger than having to mute yourself on that Zoom call while you trumpet-horn your snotty nose—it’s about how many of us keep sacrificing our physical and mental health, happiness, and well-being on the alter of our professional productivity and career success. It’s a theme we let play out over and over and over until work has consumed every ounce of our time and identity… and then we wonder why “suddenly” one day we wake up, and 1 in 3 of us are utterly burnt out and feel like our lives are simply work, parent, sleep, repeat.

If you find yourself in this sick cycle, it’s time get enlist professional support: Holistic career coaching for working moms and parents can help you redesign your career to be more fulfilling, sustainable, and balanced. Learn more or set up a free consultation.

If you really HAVE to work when sick, can you do less and set healthy boundaries?

I’d rather you take the day off, but if you must work, let’s take some baby steps in the right direction. What if you…

  • Canceled any meetings that aren’t absolutely critical (and reschedule them when you’re BETTER, not right now! Or, you can let the other person reschedule them).
  • Kept your video off during calls
  • Asked your boss and/or coworkers for help
  • Only worked on fun stuff
  • Only worked on the absolutely most critical stuff
  • Worked from home
  • Worked a half-day
  • Took a mental health day on a different, less busy day
  • Ignored your Slack and emails
  • Told everyone you’re taking the day off and only did the 5% of stuff you absolutely have to do
Hi, I'm Lydia Johnson, MS

Hi, I'm Lydia Johnson, MS

Holistic Career Coach & Founder of ThriveCulture Coaching

I’m a dual-certified career coach and Industrial-Organizational Psychology consultant on a mission to banish Sunday Scaries and help you reclaim your life from work stress. I specialize in helping ultra-busy people design a fulfilling and burnout-free career that leaves more space for the rest of your life. Whether you need to overhaul everything, find a new job, or make your current role work better for you, I’m here to help.

You can learn more about my holistic and evidence-based approach on my website or jump on the phone for a FREE 20-minute consult call to learn more about how career coaching can help you finally enjoy a fulfilling, burnout-free career.


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