9% of people say they 'never' take sick days, Yahoo News/YouGov poll finds. Why experts say that's a mistake.

A woman holds a tissue to her nose as she sits at her office desk.
Experts say you should use your sick time. (Getty Creative) (PeopleImages via Getty Images)

Have you ever woken up with a scratchy throat and pounding headache, only to tell yourself that you really should push through it instead of taking time off work? Or, are you more likely to call in sick and curl up with your latest Netflix binge-watch? A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll of 1,482 U.S. adults conducted between March 8 and 11 found that among respondents who reported being employed (52% were not), 9% say they “never” take a sick day, while 3% say they “don’t have [the] option” to take sick time.

Conversely, 16% say they typically take “1 or 2” sick days a year, 12% say they take “a few” and 4% say they take “more than a few.” Another 3% of respondents say they are not sure about their sick leave habits.

Why don’t people take sick time?

Among those who have the option to take sick leave but seldom do, 13% say they don’t need the time off because they “rarely get sick.” Another 4% share that they have “financial reasons” — such as needing the income from a part-time shift — while 2% say that “pressure at work” has stopped them from calling in. Another 2% say they work remotely and therefore are “not worried about illness spreading.”

What about a work colleague calling in sick? According to the poll, 37% of respondents say they prefer a co-worker to “take the day off” if they’re ill, and just 5% say the co-worker should “work anyway.”

But just 7% of people say they “always” believe their co-workers are truly ill when they take sick time, 16% say they “usually” think their colleagues are ill when they take time and 15% say it’s just “sometimes.” On the more suspicious end of the spectrum, meanwhile, 5% of those surveyed admit “rarely” feeling that a colleague is truly sick, and 1% “never” do. Another 4% report being unsure either way.

While there’s a range of experiences when it comes to sick leave, these findings do indicate that there’s a general reservation about taking a day off to rest up — whether it’s for yourself or a colleague. Sometimes that reluctance is self-imposed, experts say. But there’s also workplace culture and the sense that taking time off will be frowned upon at the office — particularly among older colleagues. People ages 30 to 44 were most likely to report not calling in because of “pressure at work.”

“I think there was a major ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’ and ‘never showing weakness’ in the boomer generation that played a role in millennials’ upbringing,” Elizabeth Marks, a licensed social worker, tells Yahoo Life.

Why experts say you should take a sick day if you need it

If you have a job that allows for sick time, you should use it, says Marks. “I think that there’s an idea that working 24/7 and pushing yourself even when you shouldn’t is a sign of commitment or hard work, when in reality it’s a sign of disrespect to yourself and your body,” she explains. “Sick and mental health days are a sign of self-respect and boundary building that our health is at the top of our own lists before work.”

Aaron Breedlove, a psychologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life that “pushing through illness can increase stress, fatigue and overall mental strain” as well as increase our time in “fight or flight mode,” aka the activation of the sympathetic nervous system in the body. Staying in fight-or-flight mode for too long can lead to chronic stress, which can cause a weakened immune system, disrupted sleep and increased likelihood of developing anxiety and depression.

According to Dr. Mickey Trockel, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford Medicine, taking time off if you’re ill “may actually increase the productivity of your team.” If you go into work while sick, you’re more likely to infect others, leading them to potentially need time off too. And even if you work remotely, “taking a day to recover may actually improve one’s own productivity,” he tells Yahoo Life.

“People who are well are more productive at work,” Trockel says. “Taking time off for vacation or sick days can improve well-being and reduce burnout, leading to improved performance and productivity at work.”

From a physical health standpoint, it’s also vital to “take time off to let your body heal,” Dr. Sachin Gupta, a primary care physician and chief medical officer at University of North Carolina Physicians Network in Chapel Hill, N.C., tells Yahoo Life.

“Peak mental and physical performance occurs when you’re feeling well, which is why even if you’re working remotely, it’s important to take time off and use your sick days,” he explains. “Taking time off to focus on your physical health usually means that you’ll recover faster and get back to work faster.”