Lazy, privileged, entitled? A new study flies in the face of insulting millennial tropes, by showing they are the people most likely to work through sickness.
The widely-held stereotype of “snowflake” millennials is not only pejorative – it’s also inaccurate, as a new study shows.
Data from 2,800 US employees questioned about their work habits found that those aged 25 to 40 are the most likely to plough through sickness and tough it out in the office while unwell.
Nearly half (40%) the respondents in that age category said that they always made it into the office when they were poorly.
This figure outweighed response rates for younger workers aged 18 to 24, and also those aged over 41 and 55: less than a third of whom regularly worked through sickness in each category.
The research also showed that Phoenix, San Diego and Miami are the US cities where professionals feel the most pressure from their boss to be present when sick.
While millennials are to be admired for their stoicism, the study is hardly good news in a 24/7 working culture still governed by an unhealthy tendency to presenteeism.
Employees who admitted to regularly working through a cold or the flu said they do so because they have too much work on their plate (54%); or because they don’t want to use up sick time (40%).
But battling through sickness not only runs the risk of making it worse; it’s also a habit that will exacerbate the very stress that people are trying to manage by turning up. This, in turn, leads a real danger of burnout.
The problem is, skipping work because of sickness is still viewed as a sign of weakness in many (unenlightened) work environments; an indication that the person in question is somehow not pulling their weight.
“I hate calling in sick, I see it as failure,” one unnamed employee said, when asked by Stylist why she dragged herself into work with a freshly broken elbow. “The doctor was happy to sign me off, but I just thought people at work would think I was shirking as I’m right-handed.”
Also, at a time where we’re bombarded with deadlines and demands, and routinely work longer hours than ever before, taking time off often seems like something that will create more hassle than it’s worth in lost hours.
As one finance manager in her 30s – the exact millennial bracket that works through sickness – says: “When there’s always too much work, taking recuperation time feels a bit pointless – it usually means going back to worse.”
As the authors of this most recent study point out, it’s up to managers to disrupt damaging attitudes towards office sickness, and pave the way to a healthier, more balanced working culture.
“Bosses should set an example by taking time off when they’re under the weather,” says Michael Steinitz, senior executive director of Accountemps. This includes “encouraging employees to do the same and offering those with minor ailments the ability to work from home”.
Until they do, that idyllic Danish model of strict 4pm home times and prioritised room to rest remains but a pipe dream.