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A couple of coworkers around the watercolor gossiping about a message they just received from a coworker who is on sick-leave but still working.

When Coworkers See You Work on a Sick Day

Like many of you, I have somehow managed to hold down a job despite my diagnosis of chronic migraine. I also have psoriatic arthritis, which has been well-managed in the last couple of years but, like all chronic conditions, will likely flare up again before too long.

A career path that worked for me

In my case, I worked for years to create a job that gives me the time and space to be sick when I need to: I founded my own business. This isn’t an option or even an interest for many out there, but it has worked for me; I’ve even written a few articles and delivered a TEDx talk about being a migraineur entrepreneur.

My coworkers don't have the same experiences

Thankfully, most of my coworkers at Avid Bookshop don’t have serious issues with chronic pain or disability. This means they can often work the customer-facing shifts that can sometimes be impossible for me when I’m migraining.

Some tasks are easier during an attack

One thing that’s always hard to explain to people without chronic illness is that there’s a sliding scale of what sorts of tasks you can tackle on particular days (or during particular hours). There are some days when I know I simply must avoid any accounting work because my migraine brain will make too many mathematical mistakes without realizing it.

Once in a while, I can find a few hours to respond to emails or do very simple tasks while sitting in my bed wearing my favorite cat pajamas. I may not be able to cross off tasks on my to-do list that require serious intellectual skills or decision-making, but I can post on Instagram (though I’ve been known to make migrainey typos there!), write simple notes to customers and sales reps, and brainstorm about upcoming staff meetings.

Doing what I can

So this is good news, right? Isn’t it good that I can figure out a way to get some work done despite migraine? I may not be able to tackle the most significant jobs, but I can get some of the more basic, less serious work out of the way—there’s not too much to be upset about there, right?

Well, sort of.

Mixed messaging when working remotely

I’ve learned the complicated way that working remotely in 2018 at my particular business means that my coworkers can easily see that I’m online and active. They are getting a mixed message: they’ve gotten a notification that I’m home sick today, but they see by monitoring our shared email account that I’m clocked in and working on non-essential tasks.

Confusion and frustration

This is especially confusing and frustrating for them on days when they are waiting for something I’m behind on. Last year, we had several managers shifting positions within the company, and most were waiting on updated offer letters (complete with raises, new position titles, and working guidelines). I had to postpone these letters repeatedly because I was too migrainey to examine Avid’s pay structure, how a 5% raise would impact the bottom line 12 months from now versus a 7% raise, and how to outline their job titles in a concise but accurate way.

I could respond to our publisher rep who was looking for a blurb to share about an upcoming book release I loved. I could post photos of the bookshops on our Instagram page. I could write very simple emails to customers who had posed straightforward questions.

Prioritizing the "non-essentials"

But my staff didn’t understand the idea that I could have what I think of as a half-sick day, a day I can work but not with my full brain. They just saw that I was seeming to prioritize relatively trivial, non-essential tasks despite being behind on their offer letters and other time-sensitive, demanding tasks.

Openly sharing my experience with migraine

As a chronically ill boss, I continually try to share my experiences with my coworkers about what I can and cannot do on what sorts of days. I try to let them know if I am sick as in completely bedridden or if I’m sick as in able to sit in my pajamas doing seemingly menial tasks. I have a lot of opportunity for growth here, but I’m getting better at letting them know what my migraine brain can and cannot do, and I’d like to think I’m getting better at letting them know the reasons why high-priority tasks sometimes have to wait until the migraine has passed and I’m back to feeling smart and capable again.

Do any of you have this sort of problem at work or home, whether or not you are a business owner or manager? I’d love to talk more about this kind of situation in the comments below.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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