When your email inbox is overflowing, your to-do list is never-ending, and the weight of the world feels like it’s on your shoulders, it can feel almost impossible to take a sick day – even when you really, desperately need one.
It’s unsurprising, then, that a recent report found that seven out of 10 employees working in private firms – which equates to a not-insignificant 18 million of us – have headed into work despite being unwell.
This quest for perfect attendance regardless of use or its effect on our health (see also: presenteeism) is drilled into us as children: our teachers tended to keep a wary eye on the register, making little notes alongside our names, and keeping an eye on exactly how much time we had taken out of class.
Nowadays, some schools even hold parties for children who achieve that highly sought-for 100% attendance – but one woman is speaking out against the trend of celebrating never taking a sick day.
In a post shared to Facebook, Rachel Wright, an author and blogger, revealed that her son had been invited to one such party thanks to his exemplary attendance record.
However she has determined that she will not allow him to accept the reward because “being lucky enough not to get sick” is not a reason to celebrate.
“In this family we will think of as many reasons possible to praise our children,” she wrote. “We will celebrate and reward them, but being lucky enough not to get sick is not one of them. He’s lucky to have not developed a fever, had an accident or live with a chronic illness.”
Wright went on to explain that she has an older son who was born with brain damage and lives with several disabilities – and that this has taught her and her family that they should never shame people for ill health.
“In this house you are not encouraged to spread germs when you are not well,” she said emotionally. “In this house we look after ourselves and the weakest amongst us.
“Can you imagine a workplace that at the end of each week marked out all the people who hadn't been sick? Where all the departments with the least number of people off were rewarded – in front of everyone else? It happens in schools all the time.
“Can you imagine what kind of atmosphere that would create with people who had days off because of bereavement, [a] mental health problem or chronic conditions?
“What on earth are we teaching our kids about value and worth? What are we teaching them about looking out for each other and looking after the sick or disabled in our community?”
Wright’s words struck a chord with thousands of social media users (no doubt reading this from their desks, tissues scattered around them and heads pounding like mad): at time of writing it had been shared over 12,000 times, generated 24,000 reactions and sparked a huge debate.
Some were on her side, with one commenter sharing: “My daughter has a chronic illness as well as many other health issues and has so many hospital appointments she'll never get one of the above awards.
“Now they give the children with full attendance badges to wear too, it allows them extra privileges. She suffers enough with her health and from bullies, without the school pointing a finger of shame at her.
“I couldn't have said it better. Thank you for speaking out.”
Some, though, criticised Wright’s stance on the matter completely, believing their own offspring’s perfect attendance is a benefit in later life.
“My daughter was awarded for five years full attendance in the comprehensive school,” revealed one. “She was employed straight away because of this and not her qualifications. The schools are trying to promote this standard ready for later life, and there are many adults who take time off work with nothing wrong with them.”
It’s worth remembering that, in 2016, UK workers took an average of 4.3 days off work due to illness – the lowest number since records began.
This is in stark contrast to the early Nineties: back in 1993, we took almost twice as many sick days a year, with the average number coming in at 7.2 days per employee, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Plus there’s no denying that we need time to recuperate, rest, and recover when we’re ill: after all, “we can only pull off a high-wire act for so long before gravity does its job.” not to mention the possibility of spreading an illness to others.
As Mangan says, we “need to break this vicious cycle in which we have all become prepared to work until we drop – and then crawl on the floor to the office instead – and learn to put our health first.
“Employers need to accept that without this happening both we and they have nothing. And if we can’t do it? Well, a great sickness indeed infects us all.”