Following a tumultuous 2020 that altered work/life balance for tens of millions of Americans against the backdrop of the COVID pandemic, new research has uncovered the surprising costs to U.S. workers and families of taking a sick day.
These findings are reported in “Worried Sick: U.S. Workers and the Burden of Sick Day Stress,” a national survey of 2,000 employed Americans, conducted by OnePoll on behalf of national telehealth provider MDLIVE.
45% of people surveyed reported that taking a sick day is likely to cost them more now than in years prior to 2020.
American workers estimated that taking a single sick day costs them, on average, $227 in lost income and out-of-pocket expenses. Specifically, the highest average estimated sick day expense was a visit to the doctor ($63), followed by estimated lost income ($60) and estimated childcare costs ($53).
While the financial burden of taking a sick day is significant, there is also a substantial mental and emotional cost for many American workers.
More than half of workers surveyed (55%) were more likely to take a sick day in 2020 for mental health reasons than in previous years.
Also, the survey suggests that taking a sick day is, in and of itself, a stressful experience for many. A full 42 percent of people report that they were more stressed and anxious about taking a sick day in 2020 than in previous years.
“The sick day experience has changed drastically over the past year, so we undertook this research to gain a better understanding of what stressors people deal with when being sick and having to take a sick day, and how we can help alleviate that stress,” said Dr. Cynthia Zelis, chief medical officer of MDLIVE.
While working remotely is thought to make things easier on employees, remote workers in fact experience sick day stress at much higher rates than people who work in-person.
When it comes to the biggest sick day stressors, 23% of people reported that the risk of infection from having to visit a doctor’s office was their top stressor; more than one in five (21%) identified that they were most stressed about helping their children with their schoolwork during a sick day; and 16% of respondents reported that loss of income was their biggest sick day stressor.
More than 50% of people who fully work remotely said they feel more stressed or anxious this year about taking a sick day than in years past, compared to just over one-third of people who work entirely in-person, and 45% of remote workers feel guilty about taking a sick day because they already work remotely.
“Offering employees access to reliable and affordable virtual healthcare is one way to eliminate so many of the stressors associated with taking time off from work in order to address one’s health,” added Dr. Zelis.
The survey also revealed that sick day stress may be hitting men harder than women. Nearly 45% of men (compared to 39% of women) reported feeling more stressed this year about taking a sick day, and 59% of men (versus 51% of women) were more likely to take a sick day for stress and anxiety this past year than in previous years.