Am I horrible for calling in sick so often?
September 13, 2017 7:48 PM   Subscribe

I think I've called in sick on average once a month since probably February and I feel horrible about it because it's always due to a combination of lack of sleep, anxiety, hating the job and feeling trapped. I think I'm depressed. I am good at my job and get praises for it, but at the same time I don't like it or the environment and feel incredibly guilty and awful about myself when I take days off.

I work at a call centre and I have good days where I force myself to do it for the money but most of the time that I'm there, I'm miserable and anxious. I spend most of my free time lately thinking or talking about leaving the job, but it's my first "big girl" job out of college and I have a salary, benefits and just moved out into my first apartment because of it.

I feel horrible for hating my job this much because a lot of my colleagues seem okay with it or enjoy it. A lot of my colleagues are also my age and fresh out of college and I can't figure out what's wrong with me and why I feel the way I do. I feel trapped in it because of how well it pays, but it's soul-sucking and it's taken a toll on my self-esteem. I feel useless, like the only thing I am capable of doing for a living is being strapped to a chair and told to speak when the headset beeps in my ear. I am starting to feel like this is the only thing I can do for a long time or the rest of my working life. I know logically that's not true at all, that I can just leave or apply for other jobs (which I've been doing on my time off) but hearing a lot of people my age struggle to find even part-time jobs in this city, with high unemployment, makes me feel guilty and like a horrible person. At the same time, I feel like because I've already mentally checked out from the job, I don't really feel like I can advance within the company even if I wanted to.

I took a sick day today because I felt like throwing up when I woke up and got 4 hours of sleep because I couldn't fall asleep the night before, and now I'm stricken with anxiety about going to work tomorrow and having to face my boss and coworkers, especially since we're a small team and they're obsessed with attendance. In fact, my boss recently announced a "contest" where the only way to win is to not take any sick days between September and December. I often hear my co-workers trash talk or make snide remarks about people who take time off, sometimes even when it's an earned vacation.

I can't tell if this is normal or if it's a toxic environment. My boyfriend 100% supports me in quitting that job because from what I've told him, he feels that it's a horrible environment and that I'd be happier somewhere else. He's right but I also can't tell if I'm over reacting and that this is what working any full-time job is like.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (31 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Don't feel horrible for hating a call center job! Honestly from what I hear about jobs like that your coworkers are the unusual ones for enjoying it (more power to them, someone has to do that job, but...)

Has anyone formally given you negative feedback/warnings/etc for calling out sick? I mean, OK, there's a contest, but who cares. You don't need to win a contest, you just need to be able to keep this job until you are ready to leave, and hopefully keep doing a good job on the days you're there. Your sick days aren't anyone else's business.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:58 PM on September 13, 2017 [7 favorites]

Sick=health=mental health

A mental health day is just as valid as a day taken because you're "sick." You'd call in physically "sick" because you didn't have the capacity to perform your work that day, you'd take a mental health day for exactly the same reason.

Also, please look for another job.
posted by bendy at 8:05 PM on September 13, 2017 [15 favorites]

The problem is clearly not with you, it's that your job sucks and is making you miserable. You are taking sick days for your health, because your job is toxic to you both mentally (obviously) and physically (as an effect of the stress that it causes you).

Don't feel bad about it. Start looking for another job right away, though. You have to put up with some bullshit in any job, but by no means are they all anywhere near as bad as what you are dealing with right now.

Note that the above is true even if a lot of the folks at your job seem perfectly content there. People have different tolerances for different kinds and amounts of bullshit. For instance I have no problem clinging to the bottom corner of a hipped roof 30 feet above a driveway, but if I had to work in a call center I would lose my goddamn mind. For many other people, the situation would be reversed.

There's nothing wrong with you, you just hate your job. Time to get a new one ASAP. Think about what it is that sucks about your job and try to think of jobs that would have less of those things and which you might be qualified for. Then start looking! Like, yesterday. Life's too short.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:06 PM on September 13, 2017 [9 favorites]

It sounds both normal and toxic! Do you get paid time off? Then you shouldn't experience any ill treatment for taking it! But I've worked at plenty of jobs where they expect you to never, ever use it. Workplace legends abounded about people who never took a day off for years, even decades. But I think that's bullshit, especially if it's a crappy job, but even if it was the job of your dream. You deserve time off. And it sounds like if your boyfriend is willing to support you while you find something better, maybe it would be in your best interest to just quit. The job seems to be harming you.
posted by goatdog at 8:07 PM on September 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

IMO calling in sick when it's necessary to protect your mental health is even more critical than calling in sick when you have a physical illness.
posted by Gymnopedist at 8:07 PM on September 13, 2017 [6 favorites]

YEah, look for another job. This sounds like hell from a mental health perspective, and jobs shouldn't be like that.
posted by Alensin at 8:10 PM on September 13, 2017

If mental health issues interfere with your ability to get even a modest amount of sleep (say, <5 hours), then you really shouldn't feel qualms about using sick time. If you get that little sleep you are effectively intoxicated.
posted by praemunire at 8:12 PM on September 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

I feel useless, like the only thing I am capable of doing for a living is being strapped to a chair and told to speak when the headset beeps in my ear. I am starting to feel like this is the only thing I can do for a long time or the rest of my working life.

Just FYI, my first job out of college (actually, it was my job when I quit college but that's another post) was at a call center and since then I've been a newspaper reporter and editor, an admin at a couple places, and now program staff at a couple other places. I've never worked at another call center, but I still have a really good phone voice and I'm excellent at interrupting and redirecting cranky people in a subtle way. Those are remarkably transferable skills! Just keep applying to jobs in your downtime, take your days off when you need to, and you will be ok.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 8:14 PM on September 13, 2017 [16 favorites]

Not being flip: not liking your job is sufficient reason not to like it. A job doesn't have to be toxic or low-paying to crush your soul (sort of like how you can break up with someone if you aren't feeling them, and they don't have to be a bad person and it doesn't have to be a bad relationship to end it.)

I do recommend starting to treat the depression while you have health benefits, and then formulating your plan to leave. It will be much easier to get through the day when you're not needlessly suffering from depression (if that is the case), and you'll feel sneaky and superior when you know you're just using those suckas for salary and benefits until you find something better.
posted by kapers at 8:26 PM on September 13, 2017 [8 favorites]

Oh, and as a manager: your sick days are yours and you're an adult and get to decide when you're too sick to work. I do try to keep an eye out for people who use their days egregiously to the point where it's contributing to performance issues, but once a month wouldn't register. Mental health is health and I want healthy employees.
posted by kapers at 8:31 PM on September 13, 2017 [13 favorites]

My first job out of college was as a marketing assistant at a nursing textbook company (I wanted to work at a glamorous magazine). Everyone there was miserable but had stayed put for 10+ years (?) and one of them kept Miracle Whip in our shared desk drawer and ALSO I was really, really bad at marketing nursing textbooks.

10 years later? I'm editor of The New York Times! Ok, that is not true. But I did go on to have lots of great experiences at lots of different gigs. Don't be afraid to move around and see what's out there! *That is how you learn what environments and work is best for you.* This is not your fate!
posted by jessca84 at 9:54 PM on September 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

You calling in sick when unwell is 100% OK and directly aligned with the company's goals. The company's goals are to deliver their (your) services at an efficient cost. Hiring a new worker costs a lot of time and money, so retaining good workers is almost always a good investment. from the company's bottom-line perspective, sick days are provided so that you can take breaks when needed and return to work as much as you can. If you didn't have sick days, it's likely you would have already quit by now, due to a more serious mental health reaction to the job. The sick days are actually working out to keep you on the job.

That said, you sound miserable. There are lots of "good" jobs out there that I would never want, and lots of "bad" jobs that I would consider taking. It's all about what works for you. Find a new job that works for you.
posted by samthemander at 10:01 PM on September 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

bad job vs bad person? wrong framing: it's a bad match. find a better one ;-)
posted by j_curiouser at 10:37 PM on September 13, 2017

Ditto that as a manager, once a month would not register.

A contest where the only way to win is to take no sick time is a toxic environment. That's simply not appropriate management. The company provides PTO for a reason. It's a benefit that you're entitled to use when you need it.

What you describe sounds like an appropriate use of sick time. They sound like legitimate mental health days. If you were out late going to dance parties, then calling in sick from lack of sleep once a month, I'd consider that inappropriate. But what you describe sounds okay.

Take care of yourself, including your mental health. Do your best to hang in there until you find a new job, not to get so stressed out that you have to quit with nothing lined up. Also, save as much money as you can so that, if that happens, you have a financial safety net. (A financial safety net is also a great way to reduce anxiety.)
posted by salvia at 10:56 PM on September 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

In fact, my boss recently announced a "contest" where the only way to win is to not take any sick days between September and December.

As a manager I find this appalling.

Sick days are an important protection for staff in a well managed work place. People need days of sometimes, and we all have stretches where we need more or less of it.

I think your manager is not thinking about morale when making such remarks. As you have expressed, taking a sick day is hard for some to do already without making a spectacle of it.

So, no. You are not horrible. You are being responsible and mature about a real problem.
posted by chapps at 12:10 AM on September 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

I am currently signed off (from a job I love) with stress-related mental health issues. No, you're not horrible. And yes, since you hate your job, you should leave. Whether you can risk doing so without a new job lined up is your decision. Also, you should see a doctor if you haven't already.

Having said that -- your spelling of "call centre" suggests you may be in the UK, and I'm concerned that the Americans responding with "you're entitled to sick leave, use it however you want!" may be misleading you.

At every place I've worked in the UK, one sick day a month would be considered a high rate of absence. If it continued over a long period, your manager would likely meet with you to discuss your health issues and what you were doing to address them, as well as anything the employer could do to support you. (Officially, you would not be accused of swinging the lead, but an unspoken purpose of these meetings is to scare those who are. If your absence fit particular patterns -- for example, if you blamed completely unrelated illnesses every time, or if you disproportionately called in on Mondays or Fridays -- then intervention might come sooner.)

Depending on the terms of your contract, your employer might decide to stop giving you full pay for sick days, or to pay it only if you have a doctor's note. That would mean you were only entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (which is just under £90 a week, or a little more than Jobseeker's Allowance). SSP only kicks in on the fourth consecutive day off, so you would not be paid for any absences shorter than that.

I haven't worked in a call centre, and I wouldn't be surprised if they expected higher rates of absence just because the job is so horrible, but I also don't think they're known for being generous to employees.

(Actually, a quick Google suggests that sick leave policy in the U.S. is not always as generous as you're being led to believe, either. If you live there, check your state's laws and your contract.)
posted by Perodicticus potto at 12:28 AM on September 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Nthing to find a new job, but also - just because your depression is circumstantial (caused by the job rather than anything else) doesn't mean you don't deserve to have it treated. You don't know how long the job hunt will take, and if you can get help that will mean you're not in constant mental pain, it's worth doing. And also (based on my own experience) you might also find that it's not only the job - that you have a tendency towards depression, exacerbated by stress, and the sooner you get to know it and get help with it, the better your whole life will be.

If you get a new job next week and feel totally better, nothing lost. But you deserve help not to feel this bad, even if it just dials down the awfulness 10% because the other 90% is the job.
posted by penguin pie at 2:03 AM on September 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes, you're in a toxic environment. Morally and ethically, you're in the clear for taking sick time when you're sick. I strongly suggest seeking mental health treatment for two reasons. First, you're sick enough from your job that you'd benefit from treatment. Second, your job doesn't sound like the kind of place that has a humane attitude toward sick leave. Down the road, you might want professional back-up for your absences.
posted by Mavri at 5:26 AM on September 14, 2017

Definitely do not feel guilty about taking time off for mental health. Your job is stressful and below your skill level. Sometimes when I have a situation like yours, could be a shitty job or relationship issue, whatever, I try to compartmentalize the thoughts and feelings so that I allow myself a certain amount of time a day, say a half hour, to really think about the issue and feel as shitty as possible about it. It's actually hard to feel shitty for a half an hour when you force yourself to do it. Don't let the feelings just drift around and make you feel depressed and helpless but invite them in, talk out loud to them, swear and kick the couch, beat a pillow. Tell those feelings to go eff themselves, they don't own you. The rest of the time when a thought about the job comes into your mind, gently let it go and tell it that you will think about this at the scheduled time and that time only, buh bye. So you have permission to rage for a half an hour a day and then go wash your hair, pick flowers, sip tea and read, brain storm about your awesomeness. Oh, and write a big list of the perfect job, every tiny thing you can think of that you want in your next job even if it seems out of reach or silly. This helps free your mind of the nervousness about getting what you want, just let it out.
posted by waving at 5:38 AM on September 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

A "don't take sick days" contest is a bad, bad, bad idea for all sorts of reasons, and your manager is a bad manager for proposing it. Things like that do not happen in healthy, functional workplaces. Healthy, functional workplaces do exist. Toxic, dysfunctional ones are very common but you can and should insist on better than that for yourself.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:51 AM on September 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I too used to to work at a call center, right out of college because it offered immediate health benefits, and it's easily the worst job I've ever had. So yes, it's normal that you hate your job, it isn't just you. I have to say though that if you started calling out sick once a month in February, that's 7 to 8 days of sick time you've taken in the meantime, which is more sick time then I have ever had at a job. I do think you should know for the future that while you've getting some good and well-meaning advice here, many managers will look askance at someone calling out sick once a month. It will be considered excessive at many jobs. You may have valid reasons to call out on the grounds of mental health issues, but I think it's also possible that you just are having trouble facing going to work every day, I don't think many people fully realize how heinous call center jobs are. You need to put all your efforts into finding something else. And you will. I know it sucks now, but you will find something better.
posted by cakelite at 6:59 AM on September 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

The no-sick-day contest is complete garbage. I feel like that's an incredibly toxic atmosphere to work in. I recently heard of a family who employs a babysitter for their two children, but only awards a bonus to the babysitter if she doesn't miss a day of work. This situation and yours both put productivity ahead of employee well-being. It's just... so backwards I don't even know what to say. So yes, I would encourage you to find a job where your well-being and health is valued. Lots of luck coming your way!
posted by sucre at 7:02 AM on September 14, 2017

So a couple of things. I work in disability law in the US. I'm guessing from your spelling (centre) that you're not in the US, but for reference, here if someone takes off a day a month it's indicative of not being able to hold a job for health reasons. How much sick time do you have? Are you allowed to use personal time for sick days? Figure it out before you lose this job, because you want leaving to be your choice.

Second, your manager announcing a contest for no absences is ableist and also really insane. My first thought is that it's going to encourage people to come to work sick and spread their germs around.

Third, I used to work in a call center and am now an attorney. Getting out and getting another job isn't easy, but get started on it. Take steps to not be miserable. You can do it.

Fourth, are you getting any kind of treatment for your mental health? That might be something to look into if you're not doing it already. Meds won't make the job awesome, but they might help you deal with the stress.

Good luck.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:06 AM on September 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

this is what working any full-time job is like.

No, no, no, no, no. I worked in a call center and I HATED IT WITH EVERY FIBER OF MY BEING. I was MISERABLE for 6 months. I was also really, really good at my job. So much so that they were talking management track. EW. I hated going to work, I hated Mondays, I hated coming back to work after time off, I hated coming back to work after my lunch break. My last day was the best day EVER.

I have a full time job now that I LOVE. There are days where I'm like, "Ugh, I do not want to get out of bed," but it's not really because of the job (even though it can be very stressful), it's because I'm tired and comfy. My job drains me because I'm naturally an introvert and being "on" all day is difficult, but I really love it here, and I love what I do, and I really like my co-workers.

So no. Not every full time job is a soul-sucking experience.
posted by cooker girl at 7:16 AM on September 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you are in a job with multiple employees where one person calling in sick is a major hangup, they are understaffed and/or poorly managed. This contest they are running suggests such a situation. Very often people leave that type of job because push comes to shove in terms of scheduling things, and one fine day it will come down to attending someone's wedding or keeping the job. This is their problem, not yours, and there are always jobs like that available because people are always leaving them. Don't waste time getting anxious about it. I know that is easier said than done; in fact a lot of managers at these types of places probably rely on the anxiety and insecurity they are able to create in their employees. But think about the next job.
posted by BibiRose at 7:39 AM on September 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

Also hear to say that when I used to live in the UK an employee being off sick once a month was noticeable and noticed and yes, get another job.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:48 AM on September 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Even if your job were universally viewed as the most awesome job in the world, it would be okay for you to hate it. You're not horrible for having feelings, or for having the particular feelings that you have. It's okay to hate your job.

Having recognized that you do hate it though, is a great motivation for trying to find a way out of it. What would help you with that?
posted by spindrifter at 8:23 AM on September 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Not all call centers are like this, especially if you're employed directly by a corporation versus working for a business process outsourcer under external contract pressures. I have worked in a direct role for a little over five years and while it does the share the unavoidable annoyance of the beeping phone, the conditions and the value the company places on its workers is much higher. The scenario of calling off once a month would be on the outside of what's considered acceptable but would definitely be tolerated. Things happen and no proof or explanation is required for absences not in excess of once a month in our company.

In our center we also are given opportunities for personal and career development aside from just being on the phone and have decent benefits and a retirement plan.

Places like this are out there, and although they can be competitive, having solid call center experience and being currently employed in the industry make a huge difference in getting selected. Just another perspective for you; I've been in your position and soul-sucking is an apt description.
posted by dissolvedgirl22 at 10:09 AM on September 14, 2017

Anxiety, depression, and insomnia are all real illnesses. I wouldn't feel guilty about using sick days to deal with them.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:30 PM on September 14, 2017

I worked in a call center last winter for about 3 months and on the 90th day I had a massive panic attack and went out on short term disability for 6 months feeling like a failure for not sticking with it.

A month ago I stopped in at the local Auto Zone to get a car part and saw a guy behind the counter who worked two seats down from me at the call center. I could hear him quite well when he was on the phone and I always thought "if I can get as good as him I really have this thing licked". I asked him if was still at the call center and was Auto Zone his second job. He said "Are you kidding? No way! That place sucks the life right out of you. I didn't last a year there."

I was really surprised by this, more like flabbergasted. I thought this guy was a total pro and all the time he was having his soul crushed just like me. Also, this was a very good company that treated us well. No horror stories about management at all. I just wasn't a good match for the job. The money wasn't much but I really miss the health insurance.
posted by Moxx of Balhoon at 4:28 PM on September 14, 2017

An anecdote from my life that you might find interesting:

I worked in a call center. It was an 18-month contract through a temp agency, and I was 26 years old with two kids. I couldn't find another decent job, so I took that one to make ends meet.

Not only did I dislike the job, but I knew I would be let go at the end of the 18 months, which made it even harder to concentrate on or perform well.

I started doing what you are doing - I would call in sick once a month or so, especially on days when I just wasn't mentally ready to go back in. I felt guilty, as you seem to, and really wanted to do well, but I couldn't force myself to give it my all.

In the end, I got written up for missing too many days (the list they showed had even more days than I had actually taken off) and was threatened with termination. I went nuclear, sending an email to my direct supervisors telling them how soul-crushing the work had been, and was immediately let go. They wouldn't even let me back in the building to get my stuff.

I have regretted my actions ever since, even though it was 14 years ago. I acted soooo immature. But the work environment had sucked everything good out of me and I didn't know what to do.

After that, I took a lower-paying job that I enjoyed much more and worked my way up the ladder to a really decent career now.

All of that to say this: I've been there. It sucks. You should leave, but do so with grace and dignity. You'll look back on that job in several years and will be able to see how it shaped you.
posted by tacodave at 4:29 PM on September 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

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