The Dreaded Phone Call

The Dreaded Phone Call

This blog post in no way reflects or refers to my current place of work. The following has been gathered from personal past experience, and by speaking to others who have had, or still have, the same experiences.


So you’ve woken up, you feel horrendous, and you know you can’t make it into work. But not going into work means you have to phone in to work. Talking to someone on the other end of the line and telling them what’s wrong is a terrifying prospect. For many with a mental illness, this also means lying about what’s wrong; an added layer of anxiety.

So you go into work and are ineffective because you are unwell. Or you phone in, and spend the rest of the day feeling guilty, questioning what you said and whether or not anyone believed you. You then return to work sooner than you should do, and sometimes worse because of the effects this has had on your anxiety.

I’ve emailed and text into work before, and been pulled up for not phoning in when I should have done. Why do I email? Because I am already feeling physically or mentally ill enough to be off sick, so I’d rather delay speaking to anyone until I am fit enough to do so. At the point of being well again, I am strong enough to explain my reasons, particularly if they were related to my mental health.

In 2016, why aren’t places of work more flexible with this, particularly with those who struggle with mental health? I can think of a few reasons:

  1. Trust, or lack of it. Phoning in lets the manager hear the employee speaking, and explaining why they are off sick. Managers may gauge from this phone call whether they believe them or not.
  2. The phone call can discourage people who are not genuinely unwell from phoning in.
  3. Open conversation can develop, to discuss any support needs or to reassure the employee.

My question is, should employers offer an alternative way of contacting their managers should employees request this due to a mental illness? I believe so.

I asked some social media followers what they think.

Female, 26:

I consider myself to be a trustworthy, hard working employee; yet I feel severe guilt when I need to phone in to work sick. The stress and anxiety would be greatly reduced if I were able to text my boss, and if she understood why I was contacting her this way.

Male, 34:

I feel physically sick at the thought of phoning my supervisor. Not because we don’t get on, or she doesn’t understand my [mental] illness, but because when I am having a dark day, the last thing I want to do is explain it verbally. I just go into work, or invent a physical symptom.

Female, 32:

I mainly feel OK phoning in sick, but there are days when my anxiety runs too high and I feel like I can’t do it. It goes one of two ways: I either just go in and am completely unproductive, or I phone in and then criticize myself for the rest of the day on what I said. Being able to text would be awesome for my anxiety.

Female, age not given:

My worry is that if I text in, people would think it was too easy for me to take a day off and I would [take advantage]. Which isn’t the case, but do other people know that?

So, what do you think? In this age of technology, should we embrace other forms of communication for situations where using the telephone can cause someone with anxiety more harm than good? Should this be open to all, or just to those who specifically request an alternative means of communication due to a mental health condition?

I think I would feel far more comfortable knowing that if I was having a bad MH day, I could text my line manager and have an open discussion when I was back at work and feeling stronger. I would love for some employers to embrace this way of thinking, and I firmly believe better working relationships based on trust and understanding would develop.

Let me know what you think in the comments. Keep being mindful, and please don’t be hard on yourself if you have to phone in sick. We all deserve the time it takes to feel better again.