The Psychology of Sick Days

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I was talking with some friends from out-of-state the other day that work together.  They work about 220 days a year if they use their personal days (I’m not counting random days off like those weird Monday holidays or winter breaks,) make about $46,000/year, and receive 40 personal/sick days each year as a part of their benefits.

They were excitedly discussing how one of their coworkers recently retired with 700 sick days and was awarded for it with $10,000 by their company.  They were so delighted by it that I didn’t say anything, but my inner monologue was racing as I ran some numbers mentally.

Once I consulted a calculator, I found I was right in my concerns.  This infographic shows what this man gave up by not utilizing the benefit of personal days that the company gave him as a part of his compensation.   It’s depressing stuff.

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30 thoughts on “The Psychology of Sick Days

  1. Alexa Mason (@SingleMomIncome)

    One of my friends lets all of his sick and personal days accumulate and I don’t get. However, when his personal days get to a certain point he gets paid for them – what they are actually work. Just recently he got paid for 8 hours in personal days because he was 8 hours over the maximum allowance. Now, if it was me I’d be using those personal days for a little time off!

    Reply
  2. Budget and the Beach

    Wow that’s pretty eye opening. You know I rarely took sick days when I worked full time, and it wasn’t because of any kind of bonus or thinking the company was taking advantage of me, it was more about how I didn’t want my co-workers to get stuck with my work if I “really wasn’t sick.” Because too often I was stuck with their work when they just stayed home because they were a little depressed. Or I had some even brag that they weren’t even sick but went wine tasting…they told me that when I was stuck doing their job. BUT, I do loathe when people are really sick and show up to work and get everyone around then sick. Those days are there for a reason.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality

      Check out my reply to Done by Forty regarding the sepatation of sick and personal days. Sounds like maybe yours were? I had one employer who was really good about letting us know when the bad times to take personal days were. (When the anticipated workload was particularly heavy.) Taking off in the middle of a huge project when you’re not sick sounds a bit skeevy to me. Though not necessarily unethical if your sick and personal days are synonymous.

      Reply
  3. E.M.

    I agree with Tonya. I haven’t used any of my sick days at work because I only have one other coworker that can handle my work, and vice versa. We each get stressed when the other is out. I haven’t gotten sick my whole year of working here to the point where I felt I should stay home.

    However, my mom was recently in the same position. She worked for the town and got great benefits, one being tons of sick and personal time off. She got a payout of around the same amount. She took as many days as she felt she needed, but she was never one to call in sick just because. Her other coworkers abused the amount of time they got, but my mom barely knew what to do with herself considering she had 4 or 5 weeks of vacation she used. This infographic was pretty eye opening though, and you better believe I will keep it in mind for future jobs!

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality

      Those are some awesome benefits your mom had! 4-5 weeks vacation and sick/personal days!
      I can see not wanting to burden your coworker. So maybe don’t take every day you possibly can. But I’d still take days. Especially at slow times in your work cycle. I’d encourage her to do the same in order to maintain a good working relationship. Personally, I’d be okay going through a few crazy busy times and knowing I’d be taking a few days off completely.

      Reply
  4. donebyforty

    I use my paid vacation days and certainly wouldn’t trade them at retirement for a paltry sum. But I’ve never viewed sick days in the same way. They’re for use when I’m truly sick (which is very rare), and I like accumulating them to cover a potentially serious & long term sickness in the future. I’ve also donated my sick days to colleagues who have been diagnosed with serious diseases once their sick time is nearly run out. Still, these are rare events so the days accumulate.

    I don’t know what the clear implication is from the infographic: is the lesson that we should take sick days when we aren’t sick?

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality

      Essentially, yes. But with a caveat. Everywhere I’ve worked that has offered these benefits and the place my friends work lump personal and sick days together. Personal days serve a much wider purpose outside of illness. If your employer separates these benefits, then no, I wouldn’t advocate playing hookey.

      It’s wise to accumulate those days in case of serious illness, too. Especially if you don’t carry short term disability insurance. And noble of you to donate some to fellow coworkers! If you’re sitting on over 3 years like this guy, though, it may be overkill, especially near the end of your career.

      Reply
      1. donebyforty

        Got it – I didn’t realize that personal days were lumped together in this case. That makes sense, since you’re essentially being forced to use a vacation day by your employer if sick. If that’s the case, it seems fine to use it for whatever.

        Reply
  5. lisavstheloans

    This is a great eye opener! I used to want to accumulate all of my hours, but I’m now under the impression that I should use them. I also think the more days I use, the less stressed I will be.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Agreed, and that’s the stuff of life. Working hard is great, but sometimes we work BETTER if we’re centered, and personal days can do that for us.

      Reply
  6. The Frugal Exerciser

    I will show this to the hubby because he has a regular 9 to 5. Sometimes the reason people don’t take sick or personal days, they don’t have a life outside the job. All their friends are there and they don’t have much of a social life.

    Reply
  7. Matt Becker

    Wow, what a powerful visual! I feel very fortunate to not even have these kinds of things tracked where I work, but if I did I would absolutely take advantage of them. $10k for essentially 3 years worth of work? I don’t know many people who would take that deal.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      That’s so great that you don’t have it tracked where you work! I think a surprising amount of people do take deals like this….they see the $10k bonus and focus on that without doing the math of how much work they’re actually doing to earn that $10k.

      Reply
  8. anna

    Very interesting perspective on looking at it! Our sick days accumulate, as well, though I have a feeling that it will get used up once we hopefully have kids, doctor’s appointments, etc. Right now it helps me donate to those who need sick time but don’t have enough, which seems like a way better trade-off than any small payout down the line. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      That is such a great way to use them! And yes…saving them for maternity leaves is a GREAT idea, especially if your workplace only offers unpaid FMLA leave. And the doctor’s appointments….that’s a very real thing. When you cross that road, some doctor’s offices are very sensitive to dual-income families and have hours outside of the regular 8/9-5!

      Reply
  9. Baby Onsie

    This is true. Thank you for showing it to us. Really helpful information. But I’d rather spend my vacation. There’s no price tag for rest and relaxation.

    Reply
  10. christinemhutchinson

    Depressing! Being handed a big chunk of money like that would seem very enticing. I’m sorry you didn’t say anything to your friends. Hopefully they catch this post and use those sick days!

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      I should have, I suppose. Without a calculator in hand I wasn’t confident enough to burst their happiness bubble. I’m terrible at mental math. #funfact

      Reply
  11. brian503

    I received a total of 13 days a year for personal and sick. They do not carry over year to year, so it’s use or lose. I rarely use all 13. My vacation time does carry over. I can definitely see the financial side of the argument, but using 40 days if the are not need is excessive.I assume when you say personal you are also including vacation. I think most people will balance time over many years, some years my have less time away from work and other years will have more.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      I believe their personal/sick days included vacation. I would assume so as 40 would be a lot to tack vacation on to, too, but then there’s people like EM’s mom!

      Reply
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  14. The Frugal Exerciser

    I’m pasting to my Facebook page to all my friends who have a 9 to 5. Sometimes I think some people who don’t take sick days or are workaholics don’t have much of a social life outside their job. I had a friend like this, he passed away never taking sick or vacation days and that is the reason his co-workers became concerned when he didn’t show up for work.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Oh, my gosh that’s so incredibly sad. I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope he’s finally getting to have some fun on the other side!

      Reply

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