Feeling Guilty Calling in Sick – Why We Feel Bad & How to Overcome It

Self care is important in today’s fast paced world. Dealing with feeling guilty about calling in sick to work is a common experience for many.

Sick days are a vital part of recovery from illness and help you to remain healthy and productive at work. Perhaps you worry about letting the team down, or about how your manager will react, but not giving yourself time to get well can be very counter productive.

Self care starts with understanding the reasons for guilt, and overcoming them. If your boss is responsible for making you feel guilty for taking a sick day, you need to assert your right to take time off work sick when you need to.

So why might you feel scared to take the sick leave you need?

Reasons Why You Are Feeling Scared to Call in Sick

Many workers get an impending sense of dread when it is time to ring in sick. Sometimes the reason for this anxiety can seem confusing. After all, we can’t help falling ill from time to time.

Commonly, it comes down to our sense of morality and knowing we will be letting our colleagues down. Employees might worry about the financial implications or possible disciplinary action if absences are frequent.

Here’s some of the main reasons you might feel so much guilt when calling in sick and how to deal with it.

Worry About Letting The Team Down

Whether you get on with your colleagues or not, there will always be the thought of letting people down. Having someone off sick tends to have a knock on effect on the rest of the workforce in any given department.

Falling ill never lands on a convenient day, let’s face it. If there’s an important deadline or a big project to deliver, it can feel like you are just adding to the pressure on your team. The guilt of letting everyone down can be a lot to take on board and deal with.

Not being present in the office can double the workload for someone else or means that meetings have to be rearranged.

However, if you are feeling guilty about the impact on your team, remember that going in to work and sharing germs with your workmates might also add to their workload. If several team members fall sick, it will have a much more adverse effect on the team than you taking a day or two off.

Stress About Workload

Taking some sick leave will undoubtedly lead to an increase in workload. The thought of what you will be going back to can make you feel stressed or anxious.

Missing work days means the work will be waiting for you when you return. This will be in addition to the other work that comes through. The thought of falling behind and working literally piling up on your desk can be a grim image.

Many businesses work under intense deadlines so when something interrupts workflow it can cause real problems. It not only affects you but it might mean other members of the team are picking up your slack. This can lead to feelings of guilt, stress and inadequacy too.

Your Boss is Making You Feel Guilty

It may just be the thought of speaking to your boss that can raise anxiety levels. Often, your contract will say that you need to ring in and speak to the boss to take a sick day. This is no fun task at the best of times.

It doesn’t matter how poorly you feel, telling your boss you won’t be in is never easy or a guilt free phone call. It may even be them that are putting you through the wringer and making you feel bad for being ill.

Sadly, some bosses are a little ruthless when it comes to the running of the business. They might question whether you really are ill enough to take the entire day off. They might try to play on your emotions a little by saying how busy it will be without you. Thankfully, most employers do understand that employees are humans and will get ill on occasion.

Working at Home

Working from home has lots of advantages for employees. It offers flexibility around family life, helps with childcare issues and suits parents with a young family. However, it can make taking time off sick that bit trickier.

Your boss might try saying that surely you can continue to work when poorly at home. After all, you can work from bed or the sofa and you do not even need to get dressed. Needing a day off sick when you work from home can be hard to justify to the boss.

Working from home will not be doable if you are feeling really rotten though. It might not be feasible if you are dashing to the loo every 5 minutes. Working from the comfort of home doesn’t mean you are invincible to falling ill. We all know our work will be nowhere near at our best when we are feeling grotty, home or in the office.

How to Overcome Guilt When Calling in Sick

It is natural to feel a sense of guilt when you need a sick day. We naturally put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be at our best all of the time. When this can’t happen, we feel we are letting people down.

It is important to recognise the importance of self care and making our health a priority. Presenteeism often comes at a cost to our wellbeing, which is counterproductive in the long run.

Here’s some essential tips for overcoming feelings of guilt when it is time to have a sick day.

The Importance of Self Care

When we push ourselves too hard, we become poorlier than we were to start with.  This could result in needing even more time off.

Instead, try and recognise the value of self care. Putting ourselves first every once in a while does not mean we are selfish. It is acknowledging the fact that we need to be at our best to be productive.

Taking time off due to illness is part and parcel of any job role. Viruses in an office environment can spread quickly meaning some sick leave is inevitable.

Taking the odd day off to recover is far more manageable than becoming so ill you need to be off long term. It also means you are not spreading those nasty germs to all your colleagues.

Employer’s Duty Of Care

Next time you feel guilty for ringing in sick, remember that all employers have a duty of care towards their staff. This includes treating them fairly when it comes to sick leave.

Whilst it may well be an inconvenience for your boss to have you absent, it doesn’t mean you should feel guilty. You are no good to anyone when you are feeling under the weather and it’s likely your work won’t be up to its usual standards either.

Employers must keep their duty of care towards their staff at the forefront of their minds at all times. This includes when it comes to employees ringing in sick. Giving them a day off to recover protects their health and allows them to come back recharged.

Protect Your Mental Health

Pushing ourselves every day can lead to mental health problems. Putting oneself under so much pressure can eventually lead to stress or depression.

When mental health becomes poor, we become less productive. Our mind lacks focus and clarity and it can lead to needing to be sick. If you feel you need a day off for mental health sick leave then do it. Your boss should accept this as a reason just as they would a physical illness.

It is essential to remember that it isn’t only our work we have to consider here. We also need to be well to be there for our family and friends. Burnout is good for no one so take that day off so you can recharge and refocus.

How to Talk to Your Employer About Needing Time Off

You would be hard pushed to find someone who finds it easy to call in sick at work. We have this natural desire to be at our very best constantly but this isn’t at all realistic or doable.

Having that conversation with your employer regarding sick leave is always a worry. When you have a good relationship with your boss, it can feel hard having to let them down. Likewise, should your relationship not be great, this can cause worry when calling in sick too.

Should you be making that call and feeling guilty about taking the time off, you can reduce your anxiety by trying to help out the team as best you can:-

  • Remember you come first. It is as simple as that. You cannot work and be at your best when you are ill.
  • Offer to speak to colleagues about anything they need to know while you are absent. You could email them any handover notes they may benefit from.
  • Consider remote working if you feel up to working from home in your PJs. That way you can still do your job and not spread your germs everywhere.
  • Call in sick ASAP – the sooner, the better. Giving your boss as much notice as possible can help soften the blow. Of course, sometimes notice isn’t possible so in this case, just be sure to ring as early in the morning as possible.
  • Keep some important perspective when making that call. The world won’t stop turning while you take a day’s sick leave.

What to Say When You Call in Sick

Making a sick day call can often be intimidating. It can be particularly difficult to know what to say when you’re already feeling poorly.

Having some pre-prepared phrases and bearing a few strategies in mind can help take the angst out of your call.

Follow Company Protocol

Be sure you are first following the correct procedure for ringing in sick. This should be detailed in your contract or employee handbook.

Try and get this call in as prompt as possible when you realise you won’t be there on any given day. Do not be tempted to fire off a quick text or email if the procedure states a phone call is required. This could lead to disciplinary action being taken.

Keep To The Facts

Sticking to the facts is often the best way of ensuring a quick yet professional conversation. There is no need to elaborate or start giving unnecessary details.

 A quick “Hello, this is (name). I am calling to say I won’t be making it to work today as I am unwell. I expect to be back (insert date) but I will keep you well informed of my recovery” will suffice.

Whatever your reason for needing some sick leave, do not feel guilty. Your physical and mental  health come above everything else in life. Having a few days off when you realise you are a little rundown is far less disruptive than being signed off by your GP for an extended period.


Can I call in sick for mental health?

You can call in sick for a mental health day. This should be treated on the same grounds as a physical illness. Your boss has a duty of care towards all of their employees.

Should I apologise for calling in sick?

When you are calling in sick, it can be tempting to apologise profusely. It is professional to show some remorse when calling in sick but you shouldn’t take this too far.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *