Thought Leadership

Taking time off sick [or not]

By Colin Walls

Before I got up this morning, I was lying in bed listening to the radio – the Today program on BBC Radio 4. I was surprised when the people on the show started talking about me. Well, to be more precise, they were talking about people behaving in a particular way, with which I could immediately identify. The subject under discussion was people taking time off sick from work, or not doing so …

First off, I should clarify that this morning was not my typical start to the day. Normally, I would rise at around 06:00, go swimming, return home to have breakfast and start my day. I do not do lie-ins. Although I like an early start, I do need motivating to get moving and this regime seems to do the trick. However, from time to time, things change and, the last couple of days, I have remained horizontal until after 08:00. This is because I have a bad cold. It is nothing worse – just a cold. But that is not conducive to swimming and, as I get older, such a bug tends to depress my energy levels, so getting moving is harder.

The news story that I heard was about a survey indicating that people were not taking time off sick, but felt under pressure to go to work, even when they were unwell. [It also mentioned people working when they should be on annual leave.] This interested me because, apart from feeling ill at this time, I have always prided myself in not taking time off sick. I should add that I have never felt under pressure from my employer(s) to do this; any pressure has been self-inflicted.

In nearly 40 years of full-time working, I have taken, at most, 10 days sick. These have been when I just could not get to work. I recall on one occasion I was unable to confidently put much space between myself and a toilet [do not ask!]. On another occasion, I set off to drive to work, but the car would not go in a straight line; the car was fine, it was me that was malfunctioning [just a bout of ‘flu]. I always felt that it was better to go to work and get something done. I may have been only 40% efficient, but I reasoned that this was better than 0% by staying in bed. I never took into account how much inefficiency I introduced by infecting other people, which was, with 20:20 hindsight, foolish.

Nowadays, as I work from home, I am either in my home office, without the opportunity to generously share my bugs with anyone, or I am traveling somewhere. I could probably do a remarkable amount of work without getting out of my bed, but my office is just over the hall, so it makes little difference. I was due to travel to a meeting this week, but I cancelled. The long drive there would have been very hard work and the other participants would not have been pleased to see me.

On reflection, I know that I have been blessed with very good health over the years and for that I am grateful. Maybe, with advancing years, I am also finally acquiring some common sense …

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at