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Q: Since childhood, I have been a “stream-of-consciousness” type of person who has had to fight the urge to say everything that’s on my mind. I have learned to control it in professional or educational settings, or where silence is required, such as in a theater. Since I’ve been conscious of having to control what I say for so many years, I don’t know how much I should say to my boss when I need to call in sick or go home early from getting sick at work.
Long gone are the times when I would have called in sick for having a hangover. In fact, I can’t help feeling guilty when I am sick. Because I feel guilty, I tend to want to over share the details of my illness to prove it’s legitimate, such as saying “I am having intestinal issues and need to go home now” when I’ve just had uncontrollable diarrhe or that I have to stay home because I have strep throat.
I typically don’t use more than two sick days a year, but this is an issue for me because I get angry when colleagues miss meetings and have called in with a message of “I am sick today,” especially when I find out the person had a doctor’s appointment that could have been changed. So which is best?
A: This sounds like a problem within yourself rather than a response to comments made by colleagues or a boss. As for your guilt over being sick or being upset when others don’t explain their absences, let it go. It doesn’t do anyone any good.
On the other hand, it can be irritating when a worker calls in with only an “I’m sick.” Too much is left to the imagination, and most people hearing such a general statement would conjure all sorts of stories: She stayed up late and just doesn’t want to get out of bed; he was out with drinking buddies, has a hangover, and thinks the meeting at work will be a waste of time anyway; or she wants a day off and has no personal days left to use. The creative mind can think up all sorts of reasons the person doesn’t want to come to work that day. But designing an elaborate story is not the answer to sounding honest.
Staying close to the truth without being graphic is best. An employee suffering at home with an illness should not have to paint a vivid image of sleeping on the toilet due to diarrhea or hanging over the toilet vomiting, or waking up in a pool of sweat, shaking from chills. Explaining the general illness is a surer way to stop the boss’s imagination, but the information stated is only to let him or her know whether this is a 24-hour illness or longer. That is a boss’ main concern. Saying one has the flu warns the boss this is not likely to go away overnight. Some flus or respiratory infections land a person in bed for a week or two and require other arrangements be made to keep the work current.
Of course, a person is not going to say she just doesn’t want to come in that day, but if that’s the case, it’s best to keep it simple with, “I’m not feeling well and need to stay home today.” Many people require mental health days every so often, and no one in charge wants to hear details about another’s personal problems. Nor should they.