Teamwork: Is Your Guilt Button Being Pushed?

We’ve all heard it: the “teamwork is great for business” and “we can achieve more together” mantras.

And while I generally think this is true, this week, I’ve seen the negative side effect of teamwork: people going to work sick because they feel guilty for letting the side down.

As regular readers are aware, I am very active on Twitter. And what I noticed this week was that a few people – all women – were tweeting they were going to work when they were sick, or at home working while sick. When I questioned these tweeters, it seemed that the threats of missed deadlines, and more work when they got back to work, were the main reasons. But when I dug a little deeper, guilt showed its shameful face as the main reason that people worked – or went to work – when they were sick.

These tweeters felt guilty about letting down their team. So much so that they were willing to sacrifice their personal health and a speedy recovery for their colleagues.

Given that the tweeps who said they felt guilty were women, I thought: maybe this is a girl thing? We women have been lumbered with mother and other guilt, why not work guilt as well? So I put the call out on Twitter: is work guilt something that just women feel?

From the response I received: it appears not. Men feel it too. And again, it’s mainly to do with perceptions (real or otherwise) of not letting down the side. Of your colleagues needing you.


It seems that we have become so focussed on the positives of teamwork, that we are oblivious to its sinister side: the peer pressure or cultural pull that makes you work – or feel like you have to work – even if you are unwell. You, dear workers, are being unwittingly manipulated by your psychological contract with work.

Given that Australians work the longest hours in the world, and that we now have an “always switched on” approach to work, thanks (in part) to technology (hands up who has a work mobile phone, or checks their email while on holiday?), the line between work and home is increasingly blurry. Telecommuting and working from home policies make it easier to, well, work from home. And work more, because you can. I actually like the idea of flexible work, but what about downtime? How or when do we get time to just be? To think? To process? To create? To ponder? To dream? Or (God forbid), do absolutely nothing?

And unfortunately the way things are going, it seems we can’t even be sick in peace.

Image credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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Collection 4: Working It Out of the Love & Other Brave Acts (Essays on Courage for Fearless and Fabulous Living) series is all about work, workplaces and organisational culture.If you liked this post, then you’ll love my collection of essays about work.

Part memoir, part analysis of workplace culture, I consider the world of work and the definition of career success. And anyone who has found themselves disillusioned about the progress of their career—and that’s a lot of us!—will relate to this book.

Grab your copy of Collection 4: Working is Out  from the Amazon Kindle Store for .99c.

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