How to say you’re not feeling well professionally 

Visnja Vujnovic

Last updated on: December 15, 2022

Do you feel guilty for taking sick leave?

Are you anxious about telling your boss that you’re not feeling well?

Have you ever wondered how to say that you’re not feeling well professionally?

If so, you’re not alone. 

Sometimes, people feel pressure to keep going despite their physical or mental illness. They are afraid of losing a step, which, they believe, would lead to a heavy workload and a boss’ negative attitude towards them. 

With the widespread popularity of hybrid and remote work models, calling in sick has become even more uncomfortable, considering that we might still be capable of working from home. 

However, working while not feeling well — also known as presenteeism — most likely makes things worse due to reduced productivity. 

Namely, aside from the risk of spreading viruses, forcing yourself to work when you’re not feeling well would also: 

  • Lower the quality of your work, 
  • Increase the number of mistakes, and 
  • Extend the illness. 

Thus, it’s perfectly okay to call in sick when you’re not feeling physically or mentally well. 

In this article, you’ll find out:

  • What things to consider when deciding whether to call in sick,
  • What you should do when you need sick leave,
  • What to tell your boss when you’re not feeling well professionally, and
  • How to write a sick leave email/message.

So, let’s begin!

How to say you're unwell professionally - cover

What things to consider when deciding whether to call in sick

When you consider taking sick leave, bear in mind the following factors that can influence your decision and further steps.  

Factor #1: Sick leave policies of the company

First things first, it’s important to note that there are two types of sick leave:

  • Paid sick leave and
  • Unpaid sick leave.

Substantial sick leave packages are provided in many European countries such as:

  • Sweden,
  • Finland,
  • Norway,
  • Iceland,
  • Denmark,
  • Germany, and
  • Hungary.

When it comes to the USA, there is a requirement for unpaid sick leave for the private sector at the federal level. However, the following states have mandatory paid sick leave:

  • Arizona,
  • California,
  • Colorado, 
  • Connecticut,
  • Maryland,
  • Massachusetts,
  • Michigan,
  • New Jersey,
  • New Mexico,
  • New York,
  • Oregon,
  • Rhode Island,
  • Vermont,
  • Washington, and
  • Washington, D.C.

In other words, these states allow private sector employees to take paid time off for medical care for themselves or their family members, while in other states paid leave is a voluntary benefit provided by employers. However, many companies provide paid sick leave for their employees.

Therefore, it’s very important to consider your company’s sick leave policies and check whether the paid sick leave plans are available and how many days of paid sick leave your company provides.

Factor #2: Illness symptoms 

Some days it happens that we don’t feel well, but we’re unsure whether we’re just tired or developing an illness. Thus, it’s very important to notice the warning signs that will help you to decide whether to call in sick. 

According to a Keck Medicine’s article, the most common signs you should call in sick are the following:

  • Fever,
  • Cough, scratchy throat, but no fever,
  • Dry cough,
  • Green or yellow nasal discharge, and
  • Headache.

However, always attempt to listen to your inner voice and be completely honest with yourself. 

Studies reveal that 9 in 10 employees come to work sick due to an overwhelming workload.

Even though most people may think that taking time off from work would negatively impact job performance, going to the office while getting sick would prolong the recovery period and decrease the quality of work.  

Moreover, when we feel under the weather, we typically suffer from ‘’sickness behavior’’ because both our mind and body respond to the illness

According to the research, experiencing cold is linked with reduction in alertness and efficiency of mental functioning, which indirectly indicates lower job performance. 

Due to this reason, presenteeism is more harmful than beneficial. Moreover, according to the article Presenteeism: At Work—But Out of It: “Researchers have found that less time is lost from people staying home than from them showing up but not performing at full capacity.”

💡 Pumble Pro Tip

FOMO (fear of missing out) typically leads to presenteeism. To learn about the importance of balancing FOMO and FOTO (fear of the office), check out our guide on the topic:

Factor #3: Whether you need a mental health day 

Even though people tend to neglect their well-being, mental health issues should be treated just like physical illness. 

Since 2019, burnout has been included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) and identified as an occupational phenomenon. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), common signs of burnout are the following:

  • “Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • Reduced professional efficacy.”

Most importantly, ignoring burnout symptoms leads to serious consequences such as:

  • Irritability,
  • Sadness,
  • Insomnia, and
  • Fatigue.

Furthermore, State of Mental Health in America reports provide compelling evidence that supports the importance of prioritizing mental health. Considering that over 50 million Americans were experiencing mental illness in 2019-2020, we can conclude that we shouldn’t take our mental health for granted. 

Signs that indicate you need to take a mental health day are the following: 

  • Difficulty concentrating and focusing,
  • Being more irritable than usual,
  • Lack of sleep, and
  • Decreased productivity.

Thus, it’s critical to recognize the first signs of job burnout to prevent further development, which could be detrimental to our well-being and career. 

To put it simply, prioritizing your mental health is not selfish. In order to function at our best and prevent burnout, we all sometimes need to rest and reset. 

Even though you might hesitate to ask for a mental health day, bear in mind that taking care of your mental health is more important than ever!

💡 Pumble Pro Tip

To learn how to improve mental and physical health in the remote work environment, check out our blog post:

Factor #4: Whether remote work is an option 

If you work in a remote-friendly company and you don’t want to lose a step with work, working from home can be a good option when you come down with a mild illness. Doing so, you ensure you won’t spread the virus and spare yourself commuting, which might be exhausting. 

However, if you notice that your illness is decreasing your capability of working effectively, taking a sick leave is a more reasonable option. 

💡 Pumble Pro Tip

To better understand different types of remote working, take a look at our guide:

How to call out of work sick?

When calling in sick, bear in mind the following tips.

Tip #1: Contact your boss as soon as possible 

Once you’ve decided to take time off work, make sure to inform your boss as soon as possible. If possible, let them know a day in advance or early in the morning when you notice the illness symptoms. 

Attempt to be straightforward, without oversharing symptoms and details about your medical history.  

Tip #2: Choose an appropriate communication method

When asking for time off work, choose your boss’ preferred communication method.

In most cases, sending an email or direct message via a team communication app like Pumble is the best way to let your manager know that you’re feeling under the weather. 

Moreover, Pumble is a great email alternative that keeps communication efficient — with short messages and effective emojis you can inform your boss and colleagues that you’re not feeling well and communicate further steps.

💡 Pumble Pro Tip

Even though people usually send an email when “calling” out sick, email is not always the best remote communication tool. Check out our blog post:

Tip #3: Let your colleagues know

Aside from your boss, keep your teammates informed of your absence. To do so, you can simply send a message to your team channel and let them all know at once. 

In Pumble, you can change your status and availability, so when your colleagues want to reach you, they can see your current availability status and emoji showing you’re out sick. You can also choose the date and time when you’ll go back to work.

Customizing your status in Pumble keeps your team members informed of your availability
Customizing your status in Pumble keeps your team members informed of your availability

Tip #4: Follow up with necessary documentation 

Unless you take a mental health day, most companies require a doctor’s note or evidence of a doctor’s appointment as proof of sickness. Therefore, make sure you check your company’s requirements regarding the sick leave policy.     

If you’re off work sick for a week or less, in most cases your employer wouldn’t require a doctor’s note. 

Instead, you might have to provide a written notice confirmation in a form of self-certification. Using Pumble, you can share documents and files in a second from any device.  

An example of a sick leave message with a doctor’s note attached on Pumble, a team communication app
An example of a sick leave message with a doctor’s note attached on Pumble, a team communication app

How to say that you’re not feeling well professionally in an email or a message?

When crafting an email or a message to let your boss know that you’re not feeling well, make sure to follow next steps:

Step #1: Write a straightforward subject 

If you choose an email as a communication method to let your boss  know that you’re not feeling well, write a short and direct subject line that reveals the purpose of the email. 

Simple “Sick day”,Sick leave” or “Sick day – your name” would be a good starting point and an attention catcher.

Step #2: Briefly state the reason for the absence and the number of days you’ll be absent from work

When informing your boss about your sick leave, keep things to the point without over-explaining your illness and symptoms. 

Instead, briefly explain why you’re taking a sick leave (e.g. contagious illness such as flu and cold, stomach flu or family issues) and state your approximation of the period you’ll be away

Step #3: Tell your boss whether you’ll be available to check emails/make urgent calls

Aside from the reason for your absence and the estimated number of days you’ll be absent, do not forget to mention your availability during your sick leave. If the symptoms are not that serious, ensure to debrief your boss about whether you’ll be available to check emails and messages or make voice calls if needed. 

Voice calling in Pumble
Voice calling in Pumble

Step #4: Have a plan for the next steps

Depending on your current assignments, keep your manager informed of your pending tasks. Sometimes, you may delegate your tasks to other team members or discuss expanding the deadlines with your manager. 

How to ask for a mental health day professionally?

Looking after your mental health and communicating with your managers instead of forcing yourself to continue is critical for your productivity and workplace well-being. 

As soon as you recognize burnout symptoms, it’s a good time to ask your boss for a mental health day.

In order to communicate effectively, make sure to be direct and to the point, but not go into detail. Most importantly, briefly explain how a mental health day would contribute to your further performance

To put it simply, you don’t want to sound like you’re complaining, but taking care of yourself and your productivity. For instance, you can say something like this:

“I really care about my job performance, and taking a day off to relax and recharge would mean a lot to me.”


“I’ve felt overwhelmed lately, so I would like to ask whether you mind if I take a mental health day. I’m pretty much sure it’ll help me to be more productive and efficient in the future.” 

Supportive boss is looking after the employee’s mental health on Pumble, a business messaging app
Supportive boss is looking after the employee’s mental health on Pumble, a business messaging app

💡 Pumble Pro Tip

To maintain a healthy work-life balance that improves your well-being, make sure to check out our guide:

Sick day email and message examples 

Once you’ve understood how to say that you’re not feeling well professionally, it’s a good time to take a look at the examples of sick day emails/messages.

Sick day email examples 

If your boss prefers using email as a communication method to communicate sick leave, then you can consider the following email examples:

Email example 1: Taking a sick day

“Hi Kinsey,

I’m emailing you to inform you that I’m feeling sick today, so I’ll take one of my paid sick leave days. 

If you have questions or need any information, I’ll be available on Pumble intermittently, so you can send a message or call me. I will also let Karen and Patrick know about my absence. 

I appreciate your understanding,



Email example 2: Taking a week off from work

“Hi Rob, 

Unfortunately, I’ve had a fever since yesterday, so I’m taking a medical leave starting today through Monday next week. Please find in the attachment a doctor’s note advising me to take a sick leave. 

Also, I will let my team know that I won’t be able to attend our weekly meeting tomorrow.

I’ll check my email intermittently, so please email me if you have any questions and I’ll respond as soon as I can.

I was supposed to finish my project by Tuesday next week. However, due to my absence, I’ll need two more days. How does it sound to you?

Thank you for understanding. 

All the best, 


Sick day message examples 

Using a business messaging app such as Pumble is a more convenient and quicker way to inform your boss and colleagues that you’re not feeling well. So, let’s take a look at some good examples of simple sick leave messages.

Message example 1:

“Hello Kinsey,

I woke up with a bad fever, so I’m not going to be able to make it in today. 

I’ll visit my doctor today, so I’ll let you know if I have to extend my sick leave.

If you have any questions, send me a message here in Pumble, so I’ll get back to you as soon as I see a notification.

Hope to feel better tomorrow!”

Message example 2:

“Hey Marie!

Unfortunately, I need a week off from work because I caught the flu, so I need some time to rest and recover. 🤒 The doctor told me it is contagious, so I shouldn’t meet people these days. 

If you need any information, please let me know. You can send me a message or give me a call here in Pumble if it’s more convenient for you.

Thanks for understanding!”

Message example 3:

“Good morning, Emma!

I’m messaging you to let you know that I’m not feeling well today, so I need to take a sick day to rest and recover. I hope I’ll get back to work tomorrow. 

I am supposed to join a meeting with Maria and Susan later today, but I’ll ask them if we can reschedule it.  

In the case of any urgent work, you can send me a message on Pumble.

Hope to see you tomorrow!”

Message example 4:

It might happen that you are unsure how many sick days you’ll need. The screenshot below shows a good message example you should consider in this situation. 

An example of a sick day message in Pumble, a business messaging app
An example of a sick day message in Pumble, a business messaging app

Final thoughts: Taking sick leave when you don’t feel well is beneficial both for you and your company

We’re all humans and, naturally, we can’t always feel mentally and physically well. Even though people usually don’t listen to their bodies and mind, neglecting our health makes things worse. Thus, when you feel under the weather, it’s completely understandable to take a sick leave in order to rest and recover. 

When asking your boss for sick leave, attempt to be honest and straightforward. Briefly explain the reason for your absence and outline your next steps regarding your availability during your absence and the approximation of the period you’ll be away. 

Also, inform your boss about your pending tasks and communicate effectively if you need to change deadlines or delegate tasks.

✉️ What about you? How do you usually tell your boss and colleagues that you’re not feeling well? Do you have any additional tips for calling in sick professionally?

If so, let us know at and we may include your answers in this or future posts. In the meantime, be sure to share this post with someone who would also benefit from it.

Author: VisnjaVujnovic

Visnja is a communication author and researcher at Pumble, applying her knowledge about psychology to writing blog posts on business communication and remote work. She is passionate about understanding the ways communication influences organizational behavior, employee satisfaction, and productivity. When she's not writing, she's probably researching various industrial-organizational psychology topics.

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