When it comes to working while sick, no one is immune. A majority of working adults, ranging from jobs in the food industry to elected officials, say they will still go to work when they have a cold of the flu. The loss of personal productivity or mistakes made as a result of health-related issues in employees, now coined by researchers as “presenteeism,” can cost a company more than $150 billion a year- so why are employees and businesses so insistent on working through the symptoms?

According to a study conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, low pay and limited sick days can have a serious impact on employees’ willingness to take the day off while under the weather. In the study, 65% of working adults who self-reported themselves as having low-paying jobs, said they go to work always or most of the time when they have the flu- compared to 55% of adults who reported having average-paying jobs and 48% with high-paying jobs.

The difference in these categories can be explained by the difference in workplace benefits- including health insurance (only 60% of low-paying workers are offered health insurance, compared to 84% of average and high-paying workers) and paid sick days (only 38% of low-paying workers are offered paid sick days, compared to 72% of average and high-paying workers).

Many of these low-paying workers are industries such as health and food, extending the possibility of contamination beyond their immediate co-workers. For example, 140 individuals- including members of the Boston College basketball team- fell ill in 2015 after eating a Chipotle in Boston where one employee worked while sick.  While the Food and Drug Administration has a Food Code, that states that food industry workers need to stay home at least 24 hours after their symptoms go away, not all states have adopted the rule.

While limited health benefits and sick days definitely play a factor in employees’ likelihood to work while sick, a CDC report also revealed a more unexpected factor- leaving co-workers short-staffed. While there’s a definite divide across pay-grades, there seems to be a just as strong divide across workplace cultures- which brings us to our next question. Is going to work when you’re sick a predominantly American idea?

Currently, the US is the only country without federally mandated paid sick days, leaving many policymakers hopeful for the passing of the Healthy Family Act- which would require businesses with 15 or more employees to allow an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. While this still wouldn’t solve the “American work ethic” that drives employees to work despite illness and available health benefits, it would be a step in the right direction for workplace health and rights.

When Hillary Clinton had to leave a 9/11 memorial service due to symptoms from pneumonia during her campaign last fall- the public was reminded of previous candidates’ balance of their health and their responsibilities as an elected official. For example, George H.W. Bush attending a state dinner in Japan in 1992, resulting in him vomiting on the Japanese prime minster, and John F. Kennedy concealing his Addison’s disease from the public during his time in office.

Our elected officials’ insistence on working through the symptoms largely reflects the culture of our country’s workaholic mentality, as seen reinforced in various studies and public policies. As one survey found, US corporate managers often equated working longer hours with attributes such as “dedication, responsibility, and hard-working.”

However, it’s important those qualities pale when employees’ quality of work suffers from presenteeism and the potential contamination of your coworkers and customers is at stake. Before simply “taking one for the team” and working through the symptoms, consider the possible hazards and talk with your company about health benefits and options. Remember, sometimes that added stress in the workplace and long hours in the office can even prolong your symptoms- risking the possibility for you to be sick even longer. It’s time for us to shed the prestige of workaholics to finally be sick and tired of working while sick and tired.

Winter is among us. Wind, rain, snow, hail, freezing temperatures, black ice … it’s no wonder staying inside all bundled up is so enticing. When that continues for four months straight though, and you’re on the 6th season of Grey’s Anatomy (you started the show about four days ago) something isn’t right. You become lethargic, impatient, depressed, unmotivated, and withdrawn. You may even crave carbohydrates and find yourself sleeping at odd hours all day (Kelby, 2016). This is when you know you’ve been hit with the mental virus - cabin fever has kicked in.

This state of mental unrest is characterized by symptoms of irritability and listlessness as a result of confinement for long periods of time (Merriam-Webster). A study done in 1984 on The Meaning of “Cabin Fever” aimed to see what this term meant to an average Minnesotan (Rosenwald, 2016). The majority of participants reported “feelings of dissatisfaction at home, restlessness, boredom, irritability, and needing to break routine” (Rosenblatt, et al. 1984).

From these definitions, it is no surprise that cabin fever is most exclusively a side effect of the winter months, especially in areas of extreme weather conditions where going outside is sometimes not an option.

Even though weather is a huge component, it is not the sole contributor. Winter has become synonymous with the holiday season. Children are out of school for a few weeks, many adults take vacation time, and homes begin to fill up. The weather may keep people inside, but so may family obligations. Plus, if you are out of school and out of work, your days are suddenly wide open. Add all that to the typical winter staples such as cozy fireplaces, gingerbread houses, hot cocoa, anything fuzzy and warm, and you’ll notice it all leads to staying inside, even if you live in the warmest areas.

So wherever you are, the winter months will always bring the natural temptation to become a sloth. It’s amazing how much doing nothing can lead to so many negative somethings. But never fear - there are remedies!

Interestingly, recognizing the concept of “cabin fever” in itself can be helpful in connecting the dots and acknowledging what is going on. Once you realize you’re in this rut, it can be much easier to get yourself out of it (Rosenblatt, et al. 1984).

Additionally, here are four categories of solutions that may help you reduce the fever:


Cabin fever is defined by its cause of confinement. Being confined and isolated from the outside world limits one’s activity level. But we are not sloths we are humans. We need stimulation. Getting our hearts pumping and blood flowing increases our mood tenfold. Science has overwhelmingly proven the positive benefits of exercise. So if you can’t get outside or go to a gym, do a workout video, vacuum, or do some jumping jacks in your living


If you can recognize your own cabin fever, you may be introspective enough to help yourself (Rosenblatt, et al. 1984). Examples may include disconnecting from television and social media, deep cleaning your house or room, reading a book, or playing a game. You know you best, so help yourself stimulate your brain by doing some of your favorite activities (Kelby, 2016).

Seek out company

Sometimes we are not the ones to help ourselves and we need outside assistance. You may not want any interaction, but you may need it. Invite your friends and family to make dinner together, play a board game, or even have a movie night. Anything that increases interaction with others helps you feel connected (Gielan, 2011). Making plans with friends and relatives provides purpose, stimulation, and a reason to put on real pants.

Alter your physical/mental scenery

Being stuck in the same environment with the perception of “no way out” is one of the most characteristic symptoms of cabin fever. A way to combat this is to find ways to change your physical and mental environment (Rosenblatt, et al. 1984). After you self-help by deep cleaning your space, move your furniture around to make a whole new room. The novelty of your area will reenergize you.

To change your mental scenery, goals are key. Plan an outing or a trip; make a weight-loss plan or a shopping list.  Scheduling exciting things to do and see for the future will give you something to look forward to so you don’t feel so stuck in the present (Gielan, 2011).

If you’re an active go-getter who can’t sit still and is at home mostly to sleep and shower, cabin fever will likely settle in fast. If you’re a natural hermit who has a date with Netflix and wine most nights, it might not kick in for a while; but don’t be fooled, cabin fever affects the entire spectrum of folks, regardless of who you are or where you live. The plus side is that by recognizing what is it, and why it happens, you can learn to reverse its affects by using some of the methods discussed above. It is not an easy task and will require some willpower to get off the couch. If you’re finding it difficult to shake the winter blues even with these tried and true techniques reviewed, just remember that wintertime doesn’t last forever. Soon enough, flowers will bloom and the sun will shine!

Works Cited

Gielan, M. (2011, March 07). Beating cabin fever. Retrieved December 28, 2016, from Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/lights-camera-happiness/201103/beating-cabin-fever

Kelby, M. (2016, February 10). Cabin fever symptoms & solutions - pages 1-2. Retrieved December 28, 2016, from empowher.com,http://www.empowher.com/emotional-health/content/cabin-           fever-symptoms-solutions?page=0,1

Rosenblatt, P. C., Anderson, R. M., & Johnson, P. A. (1984). The meaning of “Cabin Fever.” The Journal of Social Psychology, 123(1), 43–53.doi:10.1080/00224545.1984.9924512

Rosenwald, M. S. (2016, January 25). Cabin fever is very, very real, and it has been studied. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2016/01/25/cabin-fever-is-very-very-real-and-it-has-been-   studied/?utm_term=.2c922b8662b8

If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a free, 24-hour hotline at 1.800.273.8255. If your issue is an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.