In the midst of cold and flu season, you likely hear sniffles, sneezing, and coughs almost like background music everywhere you go. At work, this can come as a bearer of bad news for colleagues who don’t want to get sick. And who wants to get sick?

Of course, some workplaces may not have sick day policies, people may have already taken them for other personal reasons, or they may just not have that option, depending on their type of job, pay, etc. Working in office environments with more flexibility in where employees work may have people opting to work from home while they’re sick – a kind of middle ground between a full-on, logged-off sick day and coming into the office.

CivicScience decided to run a study to see how sick day choices broke down among American adults. The preliminary results, excluding people who don’t work outside of the home or don’t remember the last time they were sick, show that over half of Americans went to work anyway the last time they were sick.

Men are more likely to do this than women are, though. Women are more likely to take a real sick day and put work on hold.

When you break this out by type of occupation, people in operations and sales roles are the most likely to have taken a real sick day when they were last ill. Those in service, labor, and professional fields are the most likely to have gone in and worked anyway. This makes sense for those in labor and service occupations, as in these types of roles, you often are not given sick days and aren’t paid if you don’t show up. But folks in professional and management roles are probably more likely to have some sort of sick leave. Nonetheless, a large percentage of them are still rolling into work when sick. 

But how much of it comes down to job happiness?

Go figure: People are happier at their current job if they took real sick days. The unhappiest are those who went into work sick. It seems the more you work while sick, the unhappier you are.

What’s interesting is when you compare our broad happiness question to the sick day question, it looks similar, but those who worked from home are much more likely to be happier than others.

The young work from home more—and work more when they are sick in general.

In general, working from home is an option that not all are privy to. Be it job type or company policy. Of those who did work from home when they were sick, they were more likely to be 18-34, indicating they are working for the type of company that would allow working from home and flexibility, likely in the professional or technology fields. Also very clear from the above chart is, in general, the young work while sick more than older generations.

Expectations vs Reality

Sometimes what you want to do and what you do are two different things. As you can see below, while the majority of those who are bothered by a colleague coming in when they are sick take a sick day themselves, 39% of the ‘yes’ group still worked the last time they were sick. And most of those who answered ‘no’ are going in sick themselves. At least, for the most part, people practice what they preach.


Probably the most telling data we found is a correlation to job burnout, which is on the rise among the working class of America.

Those who went in and worked when they were ill are the most likely to be currently experiencing job burnout. But if you check out the blue bars, what’s also telling is most people have experienced job burnout at some point over the years. The connection between burnout and working while sick should have employers encouraging better ‘hygiene’ for its employees when they turn up sick—that is, by staying home.