is it OK to call out sick on a business trip if you’re just really tired?

A reader writes:

I manage a small team of software developers based in the London office of a small-to-medium company with offices in multiple countries. The workplace norms in each of our offices are very different, with different levels of PTO and differing expectations in company culture.

I work very closely with a team over in the U.S., and a few weeks ago took a couple of my team members (Steve and Colin) over to our U.S. office for a week-long visit. This is part of a “cultural exchange” between offices — I went over there the first time just before the pandemic struck in 2020, they returned the visit earlier this year, and we’ve now done the reciprocal visit again.

As the manager of a team, I try to be fair about sickness — if someone says they’re too ill to work, that’s not something I can contradict. I’ll only dig deeper if I see a pattern (e.g., every Monday after their team plays soccer or something obvious like that). I’m also fairly relaxed about the idea of “too ill to come into the office, but okay to work from home” — since we all learned about properly about contagious illnesses, I’m quite likely to take that option myself, but I wouldn’t ask someone to do that unless it was a quick “send me your work so far, so someone else can finish it” for a time-critical project.

However, a scenario cropped up during this last trip to the U.S. that completely blindsided me. One of my team members (Steve) messaged me on the morning of day 4 saying he was “feeling ill after yesterday,” did not sleep well, and would not be coming to the office that day. My initial reaction was “poor chap, feel better, hope to see you back in the office tomorrow.” Talking to him the next day, though, it seems that all he was suffering from was tiredness and a few aches and pains — arguably symptomatic of a fever, but from his description, more like jet lag had caught up with him.

Given that the other team member traveling (Colin) and I had both been suffering the same jet lag all week — Colin had been very vocal about getting almost no sleep — hearing it described this way left me feeling a little puzzled.

I’ve done a lot of business travel over the years, and my expectations would be that someone would only call out sick during a company trip if they were really unable to work — I’m thinking vomiting and diarrhea or similar. Tiredness and aches and pains would just be par for the course, for me, and something you’d just suck up (and probably whinge about in the office a bit). Basically, unless obviously contagious or physically messy or similar, I’d expect someone to be at least making the effort to get to the office during a work trip.

I’d never really thought about it before, but essentially it seems I have different standards and expectations for “sickness when in your normal working location” versus “sickness when on a business trip.”

First, is having different levels of expectation like this reasonable? Second, how should I have played this to the team in the U.S. office? I didn’t really tell them much, just “Steve is too sick to work today,” and probably left them with the impression that he was a lot sicker than it turns out he actually was.

This was Steve’s first ever business trip, so my temptation is to sit him down at some point soon and explain the “different standards” thing, and say that in the future, I’d expect him to make more of an effort … but am I way off-base?

It’s good that you’re questioning this because it’s trickier than it seems on the surface.

First, yes, I do think there are different standards for calling out sick when you’re on a business trip. When you only have a limited time in a location you’ve traveled to for business, you should make a real effort to show up for work on all of the days you’re expected to. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a sick day if you need one — obviously illness or injury can happen at any time, and if you’re too sick to come in (or contagious), you shouldn’t. But if it’s more “I’m tired/jet lagged/just feel meh” … yeah, you’d generally suck that up and go in because you’re only there for a limited time, your company has paid to send you there for a reason, etc.

However, we don’t actually know what was up with Steve. It’s definitely possible that your interpretation is correct — he was just jet lagged — but it’s also possible that he was sicker than you realized. Also, some health conditions are aggravated by exhaustion or jet lag, and it’s possible that’s the case with him.

You can’t really know which of these it was without asking … and the act of asking is more prying than a manager should really be doing. You’re better off taking him at his word: he was too sick to come in that day. Which also means (a) don’t sit him down after the fact and tell him he should have made more of an effort and (b) your explanation to the U.S. team (“Steve is too sick to work today”) was fine.

However! What you can do is set expectations for business trips ahead of time in the future — especially with junior-level staff or people who haven’t traveled for work before (as was the case with Steve). Ahead of the trip, you can go over expectations about things like how expenses will work, any differences in cultural expectations between the offices, etc., and include how to handle sick leave … which you could frame as “although you might be tired from the time difference, we ask that you make every effort to work all five days unless you’re genuinely too sick to work — which of course does happen.”

{ 369 comments… read them below }

  1. Justin*

    Nuanced situation and answer.

    I know when I’ve traveled for work (which I only started doing last year for the first time) I am often exhausted, but the test I usually give myself (aside from if I had an actual fever or something) is if I feel better after breakfast and a workout (not saying everyone needs to do this!!!), then yeah it’s probably jet lag. But I’m a weirdo, I know that doesn’t work for everyone.

    So, yeah. It’s tricky. You do want to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    1. Panicked*

      The absolute last thing I want to do when jet lagged is exercise. I am completely awed by your willingness and dedication to do so! Now breakfast on the other hand… I’m on board with that. Pancakes make everything better!

      1. David*

        I’m like you: exercise doesn’t energize me, it wears me out. I’ve suspected for a while that being energized by exercise is another one of those things like being an early bird or being extroverted, where a lot of people tend to speak or write about how a particular way of living is “better”, because it works for them and people they know so they assume it must be better for everyone, but in reality there’s a “silent minority” for whom the opposite is true.

        In this context, the point to take away seems to be that each person should try to find some energizing activity that works for them, something that at least temporarily help counteract the effect of jet lag – whether that’s exercise or a stack of pancakes or a shower or sitting in bed watching a Youtube video or whatever – and then, assuming they find one, after going through that routine, hopefully they can tell whether they’re just feeling the effects of jet lag or if it’s something worse. At least, that’s my understanding of what Justin was saying.

        1. TooTiredTooThink*

          Oh thank goodness – another person who would be exhausted by exercise!

          Travel is exhausting and if I was already exhausted before hand then it’s doubly so. But sometimes a nap can help. So maybe if it happens again, say something like, “I hope you feel better soon! Let me know if you feel better after having a nap and can make the rest of the day.” Or something similar – I work in an office where coming in after calling out sick is frowned down upon (why????), but maybe that would help.

          Also, I assume that your company tries to time the flights to best help with jet lag ?

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          And I think one thing the LW’s company should consider is taking time for jet lag recovery into account. Obviously time is limited and they can’t fund spa days for everyone, but if possible arriving even a few hours earlier in order to build in a sleep/pancakes/workout cushion so that the travelling employees can at least superficially synch their internal clocks to the local work times could make a lot of difference.

          Apparently this is SOP for many businesses when people travel to Australia, since often they are losing a whole day and are so wildly off pace that recovery time is essential to be able to function.

          1. Blarg*

            I had to take a work trip to a fairly remote part of the world, and because of limited flights ended up spending a night in a to

            1. Blarg*

              Ugh. Fat fingers.

              Ended up spending a night in a tourist destination out of necessity. It was such a blessing. I didn’t do tourist things. I ate a meal. I went to bed. I had a day to deal with the time change (6 hours), and arrived much closer to feeling like a human.

          2. I Have RBF*

            When I traveled to India from the US it was 12 hours offset. It took me a couple days to recover. Fortunately I got there on a Friday, said my initial hellos and took the weekend to sleep.

            If recovery from jet lag is not built in to the trip, it should be. Not everyone can get decent sleep on a plane, which is the other possible mitigation.

            1. JustaTech*

              I have a friend who went to India for work from the US, and once he was there was on a whistle-stop tour of the whole country. On the flight out he started coming down with a little cold.
              By his third stop he ended up needing the hotel doctor, a pile of antibiotics and begging his boss to upgrade him to business class for the flight home because he was so sick.
              A day to recover from the flight might have helped avoid all of that.

          3. Princess Sparklepony*

            My ex used to travel fairly regularly from NYC to London. After a few trips taking the red eye over there and being exhausted, he figured out a better system. Fly on Sunday during the day, check into hotel, get a good night’s sleep and hit the ground running on all cylinders on Monday.

            It only works if either your company will spring for the Sunday night hotel room or if they don’t if you can afford to do so out of your own pocket. He was pretty well regarded that his company was fine with the new schedule and if the plane was late, it didn’t cause any problems with work.

        3. Burger Bob*

          Same here. Exercising regularly makes me more able to handle exercise, but it has never made me feel more energized. Not right after and not just in general. (I do sometimes wonder if some of the people who say exercising regularly makes them feel like they have more energy throughout the day are just getting better sleep because of it. I know I tend to fall asleep faster and stay asleep better if I’ve exercised that day.)

        4. Stuckinacrazyjob*

          I’m so glad that there are other outliers! I’m still trying to find that point between ‘ healthy exercise ‘ and ‘ too exhausted to function ‘

      2. Rachel*

        “But I’m a weirdo, I know that doesn’t work for everyone.“

        Did everybody completely ignore this part of the OP?

        1. This is the Internet*

          People tend to miss that part of comments before jumping in with their reasons why a certain thing won’t work for everyone. It happens everywhere

          1. GythaOgden*

            I don’t think they’re weird! I had to walk a fair way between bus stops once recently. It might have been the spring weather as well, but as disabled, the first ten minutes were quite painful. After that first ten, though, the subsequent ten were a lot easier.

            Exercise gets blood circulating around the body and that not only gives you more physical energy but it also gets into the brain and stimulates that as well. It’s why creatives often recommend exercise as a way of getting the brain working on a particular issue.

            I don’t exercise as much as I should do, and my leg does preclude me from running for so much as a bus. But low impact walking etc has a certain effect after you get yourself going.

    2. Van Wilder*

      I think jet lag can vary so much from person to person. I used to get over my jet lag within 24 hours but now that I’m 40 and pregnant (I realize probably neither of these is true for Steve), I am absolutely knocked out for a week. It has just been a reminder that you can’t really know how someone else’s symptoms feel on them.

      1. Betty*

        yes, this!^^^
        The OP thinks he knows what being “just” really tired means for Steve, but I guess not if Steve felt unwell enough to need a sick day. And people don’t always give all the details about how bad they’re feeling for lots of reasons.

        1. Chickflick*

          yes to both of these! for me, for example, jet lag knocks me out, has the potential to cause nausea all day, and affects my mental health. All reasons that I would not be able to function in a workplace. Also, I say “I’m not feeling well” as a general thing when I’m too depressed or too anxious to go to work. I suspect that if I had to travel internationallly for work and didn’t have a day off somewhwre in there, I would burn out real fast.

      2. allathian*

        Oof, it takes me a month to adjust to DST and standard time. I’m a morning person, so springing forward is easier on me than falling back…

        1. wittyrepartee*

          Whoops! I meant “Yeah, there’s some chance that Steve literally wouldn’t be able to stay awake or present himself as a reasonable human being. I’ve been that tired before. Believe you me, you don’t want me at work. Also, sometimes you get sick while flying, and you can head it off by getting a good sleep so you’re not out of commission for a week”

    3. Sales Geek*

      I traveled for work most of my career. The development labs for my product set was largely in one of our UK locations. It takes me a couple of days in the UK to feel somewhat normal.

      But the worst was our annual customer conferences. These were “big deal” events held each year in Las Vegas. While the time difference wasn’t as that in the UK, it had its problems. These events meant getting to breakfast meetings by 7:30 AM, followed by a mix of seminars and customer meetings until 6:00 PM. And then it was dinner with customers that usually went on to at least 9:00 PM and often longer for a chat over drinks. At one point I had been to Las Vegas for every year for 20 years except for one because my mother-in-law died the Friday prior to that event.

      Although the confernence officially started on Monday, we had to fly in either Saturday or early on Sunday to make an afternoon of pre-conference meetings. By Wednesdays I was often so tired I could not honestly participate in meetings or learn something from the seminars. A coworker gave me some good advice. On Wednesday I’d attend the usual breakfast meeting and the first two events. And then instead of lunch I’d head back to my room and just take a serious nap. Everything we did was monitored by management (not micromanged though) and I explained this to my manager during post-event debriefs. The worst thing she said was that she wished she had that much latitude with her schedule. And she would always tell us to take it easy on the first few days back from these events. We were told to answer the phone and be responsive to customer emails but given time to decompress.

      This mid-week break was a real help. I could honestly pay attention in seminars and actively participate in customer meetings. Upon hindsight I should have been given my manager more credit. We rarely saw eye-to-eye but she was without exception very supportive when we needed time off for family or other personal reasons.

      1. DataSci*

        So full week conferences are definitely too long, but midweek breaks suck for people with childcare or other responsibilities they need to arrange while they’re gone. I’m okay with solo parenting when my wife is at an academic conference, but would be really annoyed at the organizers if they turned four days into five by adding a break to go sightseeing in the middle.

        1. Friday Person*

          Unless I’m missing something, the comment you’re responding to does not suggest anywhere that conference organizers should add a break to go sightseeing.

      2. Nerfmobile*

        My company has one of those annual customer conferences in Las Vegas, too. They are seriously exhausting! I am lucky in that for my role, some of the evening fest are with internal teams, and I don’t have to be totally customer facing for 18+ hours.

    4. ariel*

      I have a similar test that I use at home – how am I feeling after a shower and breakfast? If it’s still rough, back into pajamas I go. I agree though that the bar would be higher when traveling. I’ve never thought about how to communicate in advance about work travel expectations, so I’m glad to be doing so now (esp since my direct report is traveling for the first time soon!)

  2. Jade*

    Calling off on a business trip should be avoided unless you’re tied to the bathroom. Never for jet lag or I want to sleep in.

    1. Anonym*

      Never is a bit black and white. There are degrees. I’ve had post trip exhaustion so bad I couldn’t think straight after a trans-Atlantic flight, and would have fully embarrassed myself if I had shown up to work then. Fortunately it’s never happened on a business trip, but it is possible.

      1. BrightLights*

        Same, and I actually fell asleep during the conference because I had been awake for 48 hours and there was no amount of coffee in the world that could fix that problem for me.

        From that experience I now know that if I am traveling with a significant time difference, I need to fly in the day before, period full stop.

        1. BrightLights*

          Oh, and the sleep deprivation (could not sleep on the transatlantic flight over) also contributed to me getting some gnarly upper respiratory bug that knocked me out for two days when I got back, so as far as the business was concerned, they may as well have paid me to do a partial day from flying in the day before instead of losing me for two unplanned days on the back end.

          Sleep is important.

          1. StephChi*

            Something similar happened to me. I didn’t sleep on the transatlantic flight, then didn’t sleep the night we got to the city where the conference was located. I managed to make it through the first day of the conference fairly ok but running on fumes, but then didn’t sleep that night, meaning, I hadn’t slept for three nights straight. Halfway Day 2 of the conference (I’d been awake for basically four days at that point) I couldn’t keep my eyes open and had to ask my boss if I could take off the rest of the sessions to sleep. Fortunately, I had told him about my insomnia, so he was OK with it. I was fine to go out to the work dinner that night, then was able to sleep without a problem for the rest of the conference. I’ve never had that bad of jet lag before, or since. It was really awful.

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          Plus, that amount of sleep debt is dangerous! I would have thought insisting someone go two days without proper sleep would be a liability for the company–what if, say, you were expected to drive or perform other complex tasks in that condition?

      2. Jade*

        You do your best to show up. If feeling really bad ask to be excused. The majority of people will feel improved after a shower and coffee/breakfast. Never call off for being tired before getting yourself up and trying. Not on a business trip.

        1. Slightly Less Evil Bunny*

          But – there doesn’t seem to be any indication that Steve didn’t get up and give it a try. LW doesn’t say (and probably doesn’t know) how much time Steve gave it before sending his message. Maybe he had been up for a while, tried coffee, etc., etc.

          I’ve had situations similar to those that Anonym and BrightLights described, where I was so out of it that a bystander or someone who didn’t know me would probably assume I was on drugs. I do have a chronic medical condition that already causes fatigue, so that level of incapacitation may be really, really uncommon. But we don’t know whether Steve has something similar, or some other medical issue.

        2. Peanut Hamper*

          Except we don’t know that Steve didn’t get up and try.

          And really bad jet lag is not going to be fixed by a shower and coffee/food. I’ve seen this too many times.

        3. LawBee*

          Yeah I don’t know what data you’re pulling “the majority of people” but the science behind sleep is pretty clear that you can’t shower and breakfast it away. Not to mention all the auto accidents, some fatal, that are a result of sleep deprivation.

          I’m not disagreeing with your first sentence that you do your best to show up. Just what you’re basing it on. If it’s a data point of you and people you know, that’s just not enough to make sweeping pronouncements.

        4. Jennifer Strange*

          You seem to think that because something is true for you it’s true for everybody, but that’s not how things work.

        5. The Traveller’s Rest*

          No. “Coffee and breakfast” does NOT relieve jet lag. At best, it throws a band aid on it.

          I did about 8 transatlantic annually before the pandemic and am slowly returning to that amount of travel. My boss does a transatlantic about twice per month. We are well acquainted in our company with the effects of jet lag. It is not merely a matter “not having gotten a good night’s sleep.” It affects cognitive ability, decision-making, perception, and mood.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            I mean, I can’t even fathom what I might say or do during a meeting or conference after three damn days of no sleep.

          2. nodramalama*

            ok, but if you’re somewhere for a short amount of time to do work, I do not think it is reasonable to wait until you’re not jetlagged to attend.

        6. umami*

          I appreciate what you mean by doing your best to show up, but I would not want anyone working for me to feel like they need to ask to be excused if they are saying they can’t make it to work. Even on work trips, employees should and need to be treated with the respect they deserve, which includes knowing if they can show up or not.

      3. The Traveller’s Rest*

        There is research that suggests people should not take crucial decisions within 48 hours of a long-haul flight. (John Foster Dulles famously blamed his decision not to finance the Aswan High Dam, which consigned Egypt to the Soviet sphere of influence for 20 years, on jet lag.)

        Jet lag is more than just “feeling tired”; it affects mood and judgment as well. It is very much a different kind of tiredness than merely not getting enough sleep.

        Given all this, it does not make sense to dismiss Steve’s comment about “feeling tired” with “just suck it up, buttercup.”

        At the very least, employees should be in business class for east-west flights over four hours. Ideally they’ll be on a 787 or A350, which have lower cabin pressure. Both of these factors can ease jet lag. Ideally they will also have one day to rest in the new time zone before being asked to focus intensely on business tasks, although I realize this may not always be possible.

        I personally try to schedule long-haul travel for Fridays or Saturdays for this reason.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I would add: if travelling long distance east, eg to Europe from the west coast of the US, try to arrange flights so that at least one leg can accommodate a proper sleep. 5+5h is brutal compared to 2+8.

          1. Modesty Poncho*

            That’s only if you can sleep on planes =/ my parents tried this with a trip from the east coast to Switzerland. Only my dad slept, we got into the city before our hotel could take us, and when we all finally crashed we were so tired that my brother sleepwalked for the only time in his life.

            1. yala*

              Never forget my first transatlantic. Too excited to sleep on the way in, and then it was a Sunday, so Dad took us to Mass. But it was a Latin Mass, with incense and, y’know. Latin.

              I swear I was in an altered state of consciousness.

          2. LJ*

            Just give people the choice of what flights to book for their needs (within reasonable budget constraints). Some people may prefer to stretch their legs more on the 5+5 (or they can’t sleep on planes regardless). Some people would want a sleeping flight eastbound and not westbound, and so on.

          3. Burger Bob*

            I generally always try to do this, but it’s very rare that I can successfully sleep on a plane. I usually at best get in a couple hours of very light sleep, but nothing like proper deep sleep.

      4. metadata minion*

        Definitely! There’s jet lag where you’re kind of groggy and cranky but a shower and some coffee and a little gumption will get you through the day, and then there’s jet lag where you’re exhausted and queasy and no matter how much coffee you drink there’s a significant chance that you’ll fall asleep at the conference table and definitely can’t meaningfully participate.

      5. Quill*

        Yeah. The time difference can be very rough – if you’re tired enough that you probably shouldn’t drive, you probably shouldn’t be doing your work duties either.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I had a day on a business trip with a fever over 101F and was too delirious to drive. I’ll defend working from the hotel that day until I reach the grave.

      1. GythaOgden*

        That’s different from being jetlagged, though.

        I know people who have flown in to an airport halfway across the world to fix the airport computers and flown back. There are people who have to get on with the job and don’t have the luxury of having a day or two to get on with things, yet they got it done.

        I think for every example here there’s a counter example in both directions. OP has a job she needs people to do and in the UK, there is a genuinely stricter culture WRT sick leave and reporting that OP is used to.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I was responding to this:

          Calling off on a business trip should be avoided unless you’re tied to the bathroom.

          You’re quite right about it being different than jetlag, though.

    3. The Cosmic Avenger*

      When I’m sleep deprived or jetlagged, I generally still won’t want to or be able to nap. If I feel like I need a nap, I’m usually coming down with something or trying to fight it off.

    4. Kel*

      there are like, eighty thousand other reasons than ‘tied to the bathroom’, just putting that out there.

    5. kiki*

      Ehhh, sleep deprivation can be serious. There are studies showing how lack of sleep can make you function similarly to a drunk person. Steve may have been severely tired, physically struggling to do anything, not able to wrap his mind around anything. If it’s a multi-day trip and you’re not absolutely essential (which it sounds like they weren’t), I think skipping one day to rest and make a better impression could be a solid choice, depending on how bad the sleep deprivation is.

      I once was going through a terrible cough that kept me up for two nights in a row. The morning after, I was so out of it that I rubbed toothpaste into my feet like lotion and didn’t notice until I was putting my shoes on. I stayed home from work again that day, even though I was no longer coughing or contagious, because I would have just embarrassed myself in front of anyone.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Agree, it blows my mind to see sleep deprivation being described as something you can shake off with a shower/coffee. In history, it was used as a means of torture/interrogation, to get a person to confess to crimes they didn’t commit. After a few days of being awake, they were so out of it that they were ready to sign a confession to anything. It would be great if we humans could happily function 24 hours a day with a shower/coffee break now and then, but that’s sadly not the case.

        1. Goldfeesh*

          Well, in history and in current times as well. It definitely contributes to false confessions even now if you follow the Innocence Project/innocence movement.

        2. Courageous cat*

          Ok but I would say in this scenario, we really shouldn’t be trying to equate a plane ride to Europe for one’s job or whatever to literal sleep deprivation torture, it kind of minimizes the latter (though unintentionally I am sure). That kind of torture is extremely different and far more harrowing than a little jet lag.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            OK I could’ve instead talked about how truck drivers have literal equipment installed that shuts the truck off after this many hours of consecutive driving, so they don’t drive tired and or sleepy. Or how many car accidents are caused by drivers nodding off at the wheel. My point is going without sleep is dangerous and definitely not conducive to being productive at work, even if it’s going without sleep “a little”, so I cannot agree with the comments that make it sound like Steve called in sick with a hangnail or a paper cut or something. He called in because he felt he couldn’t function, for a justifiable reason, period, end of.

      2. Kendall^2*

        I’m so glad you were able to work from home that day.

        Also, the idea of minty fresh feet has me giggling.

      3. Tiny clay insects*

        When I was jetlagged in January, on a trip to England, I went on an extended rant online about how it broke my heart that Michelle Kwan never won the gold, and how incredible she was, and I specifically messaged friends of mine who I’m confident have zero interest in the world of figure skating. In retrospect, it is incredibly similar to how I feel when drunk. Jet lag is no joke.

      4. Boof*

        It’s all a question of degree; i think there are studies that show people sleep deprived for 24 hrs drive similarly to people over a legal alcohol limit. Frankly I think people should be allowed to choose their travel dates in a way that makes sense for them; if I’m going to a conference on the other side of the world no way i am doing anything the day i get there (severe sleep deprived; i do not sleep well on planes) ; maybe i’ll be tired day 2 but that i can power through. Etc

      5. Sleeve McQueen*

        Agree, we do a lot of comms work around fatigue in the transport industry and the research shows you become impaired a lot quicker and harder than most people think.

        I also wondered if this was a lesser of two evils situation – Steve was much more productive for the rest of the trip than he would have been if he tried to muscle on through.

    6. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      This really doesn’t take into account that people have different constitutions. What one person experiences as jet lag is different from what other people experience as jet lag. And that’s before factoring in other illnesses. People can be exhausted to the point of not functioning adequately, and that shouldn’t be characterized as “wanting to sleep in.” If the point of this trip was “cultural exchange” and Steve was going to doing the head nod thing all day, then the goal of the trip was not going to be accomplished anyway.

      1. Jenny*

        Not to mention people with underlying conditions or disabilities! I have an autoimmune disease that gives me fatigue and makes me more susceptible to illnesses. And sometimes having a “sick day” makes you more likely to function well for the rest of the week.

        1. Miss V*

          Lack of sleep will almost always result in a migraine for me. So I could absolutely see a situation where my options are take a sick day and try to get some sleep or don’t take a sick day and then spend two to three days unable to leave a dark quiet room because I have a migraine no amount of medication will knock out.

    7. Barrie*

      I agree to some extent- he missed 1/5 of the time in the office (the purpose of the trip) because of what we are assuming was just general tiredness. However, I’m someone that tends to crash out when I’m jet lagged or sleep deprived and we aren’t fully aware of the schedule of the trip- have they been out late every night, socialising until 3 am and back in the office for 7am? Are there health issues being aggravated? Perhaps there was actually a serious bout of food poisoning but an excuse of “feeling tired” was used to stem embarrassment. Not everyone is a seasoned traveller and perhaps the whole trip was just overwhelming. There’s so many possibilities it feels simplistic to say whether it’s “acceptable” or not.

    8. Cherries Jubilee*

      It depends on how intense the jet lag is, though, and how extreme your reaction is to it. If you’ve been up for a really long time, you could be so sleepy as to be unable to drive safely, or even to cross the street properly on foot. If your cognition and reaction times are bad enough, trying to go to work is either a nonstarter or could do more harm than good.

    9. anonomatopoeia*

      For very introverty folks with stuff like anxiety disorders, the combination of probably a lot of peopling plus in a strange place plus intense time is pretty likely to be legitimately sickmaking but not in a toilet bound way. I’ve long thought that if I were organizing a long conference, I would make the middle day lighter in intensity and also shoot for optional stuff mid day most days (so often the optional tour of the nearby place is an evening thing, and honestly I’d rather have that recharge hour at 1 and have conference sessions until 530 or something.) Anyway. Illness is not a monolith.

    10. Marna Nightingale*

      OTOH, we don’t know that Steve, a new employee early in his career, wasn’t actually tied to a toilet or otherwise nastily unwell but didn’t want to go into embarrassing detail.

      He didn’t actually say he was jetlagged. He said he wasn’t well and didn’t get much sleep, which can easily mean he didn’t get much sleep _because of how unwell he felt_.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Unless he’s never been off sick before, he’s probably had to self-certify back in the UK and generally companies need to know why we’ve been off for reasons connected to both statutory sick pay and occupational health.

        Besides which, being knackered is less likely to be seen a good reason to be off over here (as OP is evidence of) than being sick all night!

        1. Marna Nightingale*

          Fair enough. And maybe that norm is such that reporting gastro symptoms to a boss doesn’t feel uncomfortably personal and embarrassing and borderline unprofessional to someone in the UK.

          It absolutely would to me, but I’m on the extreme end of the “if you’re not my doctor I never need you to know anything about what my GI tract is doing or not doing, why are bathroom doors not soundproof” scale.

          Mainly, I think maybe I read what OP reported he said differently from most.

          He was feeling unwell after yesterday … and didn’t get much sleep.

          Which to me says he’s not saying he feels unwell because he’s sleepy, he’s saying he was unwell enough not to sleep much, so now he’s unwell AND half-asleep.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I am also giving a side-eye to “just a few aches and pains” not being a good enough reason, if truth be told. What does this even mean? I am in pain, I feel that I cannot work because I am in pain, what more do I need to prove that I’m in pain and cannot work? does there need to be a bone sticking out? what?

    11. Beveled Edge*

      I’ve had sleep deprivation cause such intense vertigo that I couldn’t see straight ahead of me, the world was spinning. I wasn’t tied to the bathroom but I couldn’t walk stairs or speak intelligently with coworkers. GI issues aren’t the only way to incapacitate a person.

    12. DataSci*

      “I want to sleep in” is awfully dismissive when the situation may be “I had a transpacific flight with no sleep and am barely able to be upright much less function at any capacity useful for doing work.”

      And yes, I’ve had a transpacific flight with no sleep. Fortunately nobody expected me to roll off the plane and get to work.

    13. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’ve called out from work because I had less than an hour’s sleep before.

      Sleep deprivation lowers your seizure threshold as well as does a significant number on your perception. If I’m extremely tired I’m at risk of a seizure. I grant that it’s rare (epileptic) but even healthy people can get seizures if the body is disrupted enough.

      Severe tiredness also lowers the immune system, messes with the metabolism, causes headaches.

      If I say I can’t work then I can’t work. This includes conditions that have nothing to do with the toilet.

      1. I Have RBF*

        I have chronic insomnia. If I haven’t slept enough the night before, I am a useless jerk. I can’t drive, I can’t focus, and I’m sarcastic and rude – my filter is gone. I need to get proper sleep so I don’t crash my car or bite someone’s head off. I can’t work in that condition.

    14. Purple Halo*

      What about being so exhausted (with jet lag contributing) that your ability to function has been compromised?

      When I am seriously sleep deprived I lose the ability to speak properly (I lose words, it’s really obvious), I cannot make coherent decisions, and I stumble when I walk (I lose the ability to control a mobility disability that is usually very well managed). When things are this bad – I have to take a day to recover.

      When people ask if I’m ok I say I’m just tired, I’ll be ok once I get some sleep.

      I would never lightly take a sick day while on a work trip – but the fact that 2 staff had jet lag they coped with fine does not mean the third person was not unsuitable for work.

      I try to plan lengthy travel with recovery days built in – so fly Thurs/Friday for a Monday meeting. I will at times take the weekend for site seeing and self fund that time rather than flying over the weekend. This means come my work week I’m functional (plus I get to explore something of a new place)

      I learnt this after my first big trip, that had me arriving early evening Sunday after departing Friday – with an 8am start next morning. I was useless.

    15. Festively Dressed Earl*

      The degree of tiredness matters. There’s a-little-slow-and-cranky tired, and then there’s unsafe-or-useless tired. We don’t know from the letter where Steve was at, or if his jet lag was compounded by a chronic condition. Neither does LW. Allison was right to advise giving Steve the benefit of the doubt.

    16. IneffableBastard*

      There are people with chronic fatigue and/or fibromyalgia, many undiagnosed, and their problems and needs go along a whole spectrum. Pushing beyond our limits (that not all of us are aware of) results in a bad crash, where one will deal with pain, exhaustion that does not get better with rest, inability to fall asleep and to carry any other activity such as eating, brainfog that can mimic senile dementia, diminished immunity. Acknowledging one’s limits avoids a crash, or at least limits its severity and duration, and I believe that healthy people should be able to do the same.

  3. Seeking Second Childhood*

    If Steve is at all like my husband, changing time zones wreaks havoc with his medication . Changing the times of doses or meals & sleep yes he will get sick for a day. He will also downplay it because he wants to be superman.

    Give Steve a pass.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      BTW blood sugar issues and blood pressure levels aren’t as easily spotted from the outside but I’d argue they’re MORE important to call out on because they can go badly out of whack and require hospitalization.

      1. Justin*

        I mean yeah but that’s a pretty big IF. In that case, probably Steve shouldn’t travel on a short trip that crosses time zones for work.

        1. Colette*

          I don’t think that’s a reasonable expectation. A lot of people are on daily medication, including for blood pressure and blood sugar. It wouldn’t be reasonable (or legal) to refuse to let them travel.

          1. Justin*

            That’s not what I meant. I meant he could mention that (not specifics) beforehand, not that the job would ban him.

            1. Hannah Lee*

              I’ve seen cases where someone “mentions that beforehand” and someone up the food chain decides to ban them from travel. Not a good thing in a company that expects all up and comers to be willing to travel. The employee WAS willing to travel, just never traveled because someone decided to ‘not risk it’ or ‘be worried for her’ …. see also women of childbearing age, or old enough to be past child bearing age being taken off travel rotations by dopes who think it’s their role to police when and where it’s safe for women to roam.

            2. Fikly*

              Sure, because people with disabilities never, ever experience discrimination in the workplace by default. It’s totally the exception!

        2. JSPA*

          Some pretty big assumptions here about chronic illness being, in effect, a disability that precludes travel. There’s a lot of ground between. For many people, this is square in, “can usually be planned for, and around, adequately, but there’s significantly less margin for error than in my youth” territory.

          But that’s also true of sciatica flares, a frozen shoulder, dehydration-triggered migraines, and a host of non-dangerous conditions that can occasionally leave someone semi- incapacitated during business travel.

          1. *kalypso*

            And notice and routine – I can travel on short notice but I get about two days before I need a day of total rest. Or I can plan a trip in advance with a schedule that has breaks built in and nobody would know I was constantly edging my limit but keeping up with all the normal people stuff. There are scenarios in between that haven’t happened before that sometimes my best guess will be wrong about, and then there’s complicating factors like not getting a planned break because something runs late etc.

            It sounds like an every-second-year thing but that doesn’t mean Steve would have been perfectly able to manage this hypothetical disability or had all the information, notice and leeway to do so without eventually missing something.

            1. IneffableBastard*

              Thanks for your comment. And it is possible that Steve was not aware of his own limits beforehand as well, if he does not travel for work regularly. Or, as it happens with dynamic disabilities/conditions, his limits were a bit on the shorter side this time.

              1. *kalypso*

                yeah. Unless it’s very new or something’s happened to change the status quo (e.g. new medication) though, even with what you call a dynamic condition, you can still generally guesstimate based on previous experience and current situation how something is going to go, or what might make it lessen the impact. You don’t generally get to nothing left in the tank out of nowhere; you can feel blah in the morning and go ‘well if I keep extra hydrated and take my whole lunch I can get through to 5 and skip dinner’ and then still peter out at 3, which is the kind of situation I expected to be covered by ‘sometimes my best guess will be wrong about’, i.e. we don’t generally expect people with any disability they’re aware of to not have any idea that adding travel and a high-intensity week in a strange place will be something they may have to adjust their usual management routine for such that having to manage it at all is a surprise.

      2. NewJobNewGal*

        I wonder if the London travelers had any kind of health insurance. If the employee didn’t rest and pushed through, and then had a medical emergency, the US Healthcare bill could be astronomical. Would the company be prepared to pay it?
        The financially safer route would be to rest for a day.

        1. Chloe*

          As a Brit who travels to the US regularly we do not come without travel insurance!!! We are terrified of the American healthcare system! It’s the first thing that is mentioned when a trip is planned. Although, good question I wonder if the company would pay?!

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          This is not jumping to conclusions.

          LW didn’t mention them because Steve didn’t mention them. But it is very possible that Steve was having issues along these lines and didn’t mention them because this really isn’t his manager’s business–she should take him at his word that he isn’t feeling well, unless there is a weird pattern going on.

          This is about leading with grace and empathy and not just constantly saying “oh it’s not that bad, just suck it up” as you have said repeatedly.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          To me, jumping to a big conclusion would be deciding that Steve, who has up until that point been a productive employee, to the point where everyone saw the benefit of him being flown overseas for a team-collaboration trip, suddenly decided to call in sick on day 4 of the trip simply because he didn’t feel like rolling out of bed that morning.

          1. JSPA*

            Yes; if Steve is given to flaking out on a whim, such that it becomes a pattern, address that.

            More generally, it’s worth having a conversation with all participants about how work travel often requires a bit more awareness, management and planning of one’s physical levels than pleasure travel. But that should not be pointed at Steve.

  4. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I’ve done a lot of jet-lag inducing travel. You should also consider that if Steve had gotten no sleep, he might have been completely unproductive, even if the physical symptoms — as HE described them — don’t sound so bad.

    1. Editor Emeritus*

      yeah, I once flew from Boston to Denver and got altitude sickness. I went to my meeting, but felt awful all day. Not sure how useful I was. As it was a one day meeting (so bad, i know), I had no choice. To be honest, I didn’t even know what was wrong with me until the end of the day, when the meeting organiser advised the sea-level folks to watch their alcohol intake at dinner. I did have to skip dinner, but had no appetite anyway!

      1. Knope Knope Knope*

        Oh yes, I once flew from London to Utah for work trip of less than a week. I forget now exactly how many days. But after a few days the altitude and jet lag caught up to me and I slept for like 13 hours. I missed a whole day. Luckily my coworkers were cool about it. We were sharing a condo and I was the only unlucky one without my own room and was sleeping on the pullout couch in the living room, so I guess they could see I was literally just asleep and took pity on me. I don’t even think I could have physically called out if a call was required.

      2. not a hippo*

        Altitude sickness is no joke. I have relatives who live in Colorado and I hated visiting them as a kid because I was always so sick the entire time.

      3. anonomatopoeia*

        Right? Or like, asthma plus altitude? My lungs feel the roughly 800 foot change between home and my parents’ home a LOT, and they they are not anywhere especially high up.

    2. turquoisecow*

      yeah if the work requires critical thinking and brain function, which I assume it does, then working with no sleep would lead to mistakes or inaccurate work, which is also not ideal.

    3. Kate*

      In work cultures where there’s a lot of travel there can sometimes be an expectation that jet lag is something you just power through with mind over matter, and that seems really disconnected from the reality of having a human body.

      Hopefully you already allow folks to build in recovery/ adjustment days on either end. I used the app Timeshifter for the first time on a recent US/Europe trip and it worked a treat.

      1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

        Petition for everyone to call in sick when jet lagged so companies recalibrate how much they really need to be doing all this travel and if they really need to be doing it in this way.

      2. anon for this*

        Last time I flew across an ocean for work and decided to just power through it and pretend everything was fine, my body went NOPE and I ended up having my first ever seizure, in a place where I’m grateful the hotel found a medical person who could speak English. Yikes.

        1. nm*

          In personal experience, I have experienced jet lag/sleep deprivation which rendered me unaware of where I was or what I was doing–I apparently began sobbing into the arms of a janitor at my cousin’s wedding venue until a relative noticed and took me away to nap. Once I regained sentience my mother assured me that I did not disrupt/ruin the wedding. I have no memory of any of this.

      3. Sophronisba*

        Thanks so much for the Timeshifter recommendation! We have a trip to France planned in a few weeks and I’m going to give it a try — jet lag hits me hard and this looks like it could help.

    4. Colette*

      Yeah, I had a day last month where I probably should have called in sick due to lack of sleep. I was completely useless as far as accomplishing any work.

    5. Smithy*

      Absolutely this. However, I do think that in general when coaching on business norms – I do think that this is one of those things where it’s a valuable lesson to think about how to mentor and coach junior staff about the optics of jetlag, work travel, and taking care of yourself.

      I’m not saying that you need to make calling out for illness a major graphic production, but I do think a reality is that a lot of people do power through jet lag. And if you’re perceived as someone who struggles with jet lag during business travel (as opposed to unfortunately getting ill), those perceptions can attract less positive attention. That perhaps you’re not the go-to person for certain kinds of travel? Questions by your supervisor or other colleagues about if you’re taking care of yourself when you travel (i.e. staying out too late, having one alcoholic drink too many, not drinking enough water, etc etc)?

      How fair any of those questions are I think varies, but I think the bigger piece is that because so few people call out specifically for being tired due to jetlag is that it risks those questions being asked. I do think there’s an overall balance gained with having an open relationship with your supervisor about your life vs privacy around what every illness is. But this is one where I think the mentoring is almost more important than calling out.

    6. Roland*

      Yup. Given that it was day 4, it sounds like he WAS trying to power through it like so many people are suggesting as “what Steve should have done”. But at some point, jet lag might just catch up with you and there’s not much you can always do about it. Going to work drop-down exhausted is probably worse for “optics” as well as productivity vs just taking an unfortunate sick day.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        I’ve got fibro, a condition which teaches lessons on self-care with great frequency, and I can usually do okay on a 2-3 day trip, but if I have to be “on” for more than 8-9 hours each day, I will crash and crash HARD by day 3 or 4 (same with vacations). So for work travel I’ve learned how to manage myself so that if I’m still onsite after a couple-3 days that I am able to be vertical and reasonably alert and functional for the entire trip.

        Since Steve isn’t experienced in work travel over time zones, it’s certainly possible that his brain/body for whatever reason said “NOPE” and he needed to rest. If he travels more, I’m sure he’ll learn what he needs to do to pace himself. Usually it takes only one work trip where one sleeps through the day before one learns that lesson.

    7. Evergreen*

      Actually, for me this is the crux of the issue: often business travel is more about relationship building than actual productivity (at least in my role).

      On a business trip it might make more sense to turn up and operate at half or quarter speed (so you’re still building those relationships) than in the home office where the loss of productivity matters more.

      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        Oh I am absolutely on the other end of that as far as my experience.

        We already have a relationship. We have a contract, we have done a lot of work remotely. The site visit is to actually implement, in person, the thing we’ve been building for the last 6 months, or to conduct detailed interviews and observations of workflows, etc. so we can implement the next step.

        I’ve done travel that include measuring server rooms, running cables, crawling under the desk of the CFO’s secretary in order to fix the maze of power strips that’s causing her computer to reboot, conducting training, and interviewing key staff. I’ve done all of those things in a single trip. None of that can be done if I’m only working at 25% speed.

        Yes, if the point of the junior employee traveling is just to be a member of the entourage, show up at 4-hour meetings, take some notes, have water-cooler conversations with peers at the other site, etc. then sure, you can do that while severely jet-lagged. But very little of my travel has fallen into that category.

    8. yala*

      This is a big part of why I’m so frustrated at our employer rolling out new leave guidelines. More than two unscheduled absences (sick days) within a 12-month period starts the ball rolling with a note of concern at three, a written warning at 5, etc.

      There have been plenty of times when I’ve been sleep deprived (have bouts of insomnia sometimes), or had headaches, or nausea, or just REALLY bad cramps and known that I probably wasn’t going to be of much use for most of the day. I’d rather just use my leave than power through it and take longer to feel better, while simultaneously getting nothing done that I wouldn’t need to recheck later.

  5. A BA PO*

    In a past job I traveled full time to client sites for 7 years. I took traveling sick days twice in that time, and both of them involved vomiting (and the very real fear that I wasn’t going to be well enough to make it on the flight home). It definitely sucks but it happens, especially as you’re out in the world, around a bunch of other people, and often eating weird food. Both of my instances involved food poisoning, I suspect.

    The customers that I didn’t make it to were longer-term customers, so they understood and really did not want me in their spaces if I was ill.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      That’s another important consideration – how ill is Steve and how will the U.S. team feel about having him sitting in the corner looking miserable?

  6. Eldritch Office Worker*

    Jet lag occasionally makes me VERY sick. It’s hard because it’s not every time, but it’s often enough that I need to plan for it. If that’s the case with Steve – which he might not even know if he doesn’t travel often – it would certainly be worth having a conversation about how much he really wants or needs to travel for work. But only if it becomes a pattern – a second trip where he gets very ill would be enough of a pattern, but I wouldn’t approach him after a one-off.

    That said I like Alison’s advice about the pre-emptive conversation. If people haven’t traveled for work before, or traveled much at all, maybe even giving them a brief description of what jet-lag is.

    1. PoolLounger*

      I’m the same. Occasionally I’m fine. Other trips I’m sleepwalking, falling asleep for 15 hours straight, terrible intestinal issues, etc. the sleep issues alone would be enough to miss work—trust me, you do not want someone who’s basically asleep on their feet doing any work, even meetings.

    2. Jet Lag Makes Me Sick but only Sometimes*

      Same. Sometimes jet lag makes me so sick I’m throwing up in the bathroom. On one very memorable trip to China I was throwing up in the bathroom for an entire meal while I missed “the best peking duck” everyone had ever had while everyone speculated if I was pregnant! I didn’t chalk it up to jet lag until I got home and the same exact thing happened. In a work meeting in the office (because I pushed myself to go in) IN a meeting room while my director was trying to announce she was leaving. Now that I know this is something that can happen for me with jet lag, I prepare on every trip. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. But I don’t give into the pressure to “push through” when I feel off from jet lag anymore because I don’t want a repeat of *either* of those experiences. Do you know how hard it is to live either of those things down???? I am now a story that people tell….

  7. Chairman of the Bored*

    It’s fair to place a higher value on travel work time than in-the-office work time, both because the time is more limited and it’s being bought at significant expense just to get the employee there.

    As long as your symptoms aren’t consistent with something contagious it’s fine to show up at work moving a bit slow and just blame it on jet lag.

    Nobody will blame you, and “jet lag and how you deal with it is” a topic that tends to generate stories and foster camaraderie among experienced business travelers.

    1. babymind*

      This assumes no one has any pre-existing conditions and that’s a pretty inexcusable assumption in this day and age. After 24 hr of no sleep, that’s the equivalent effect on your brain as a 0.10% BAC, well above the legal limit. We don’t allow employees to show up drunk, why should we require them to appear when they’re sleep deprived? (Yes I do think the internship and residency medical programs in the US are highly dangerous and should be banned)

      Jetlag, jetlag-induced insomnia, and altitude sickness are all situations that induce migraines in me. Migraines are not only a non-starter for work but experiencing them is a federally recognized disability and me missing work for them is protected by labor laws in multiple countries. Multiple other commenters have shared other medical conditions exacerbated by jetlag that prohibit showing up for work. Jetlag isn’t even always predictable so even planning for it doesn’t mean it can be prevented or mitigated to any reasonable degree. Disabilities cannot result in a business prohibiting employees from opportunities or punishing them for an opportunity “squandered” by acute illness or flare-up.

      You’re having the same reflexive reaction as OP but without the pause and reflection that this reaction might be wrong. At work we are all (mostly) adults and should proceed with the assumption that our coworkers are fully cognizant of their limits and able to assess when work isn’t feasible. Not tell sick people they have to show up in a degraded condition because it was expensive to get them there.

    2. LawBee*

      I also am an experienced business traveler and sometimes I can shake it off, and sometimes I just flat out can’t. Going west to east is a beast for me, and I don’t know why.

      I don’t disagree but also just noting that sometimes it’s more than just moving a bit slowly.

      1. The Traveller’s Rest*

        West to east is more difficult because there is less exposure to light, IMO.

        It will be interesting to see what happens with Qantas Project Sunrise, the planned London to Sydney nonstops, which will expose passengers to two sunrises on the same flight.

        1. Good Enough For Government Work*

          This might be the reason why, when I travelled London – Sydney for a holiday, I spent the first 36 hours physically unable to anything but sleep — and then was perfectly fine and jumped straight back into normal stuff for the timezone when I travelled back again.

      2. DataSci*

        Most people find west to east harder because you’re losing time – either from sleep or during the day so that you don’t feel tired when it’s nighttime and have trouble falling asleep. (This is why lots of people recommend building in a recovery day for eastbound travel which you spend being awake in the morning as much as possible and getting morning sunlight to help adjust. East to west it’s just 3 pm (or whatever time) for hours and hours.

    3. TechWorker*

      Yea… not for everyone. I failed so badly at jet lag last time I came back from the US to the U.K. (luckily impacting the days at work once I was back in the main office) that I was falling asleep trying to walk to work. I have never been so tired – there is no way I could function or make any good decisions in that state (!).

      1. allathian*

        It wasn’t due to jetlag, but the last time I had temporary insomnia due to stress at work, I fell asleep on the toilet. I called in sick that day and spent most of it sleeping on the couch rather than trying to work. I also slept normally the following night, even though I spent about 15 hours asleep that 24-hour period.

  8. L-squared*

    Another thing I’d question is what exactly was he missing by not being there.

    I work in my company’s HQ and sometimes we have people who have to come visit us. They don’t really want to frankly, and I can’t blame them. But they end up really just doing the same job they typically do at home, but in an office. And if that is it, and they aren’t really missing anything valuable, then I don’t think its really that big of a deal. On the flip side, if they were travelling for a business trip and they were missing an important client meeting, I’d find that a lot more of an issue.

    1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      Yeah, I think this is always an important question to ask, especially when doing something with a big price tag, big tax on employee time and health, and a big carbon footprint. It’s never wrong to wonder if the benefits outweigh the costs.

    2. Relentlessly Socratic*

      At OldJob, pre-pandemic, I needed to come in roughly monthly for 3 days on-site to basically sit in the same meetings and then in my cubicle doing my exact job. Except with more distractions and lost time to “face time” which was really people dropping by to gossip. My entire work week would take a productivity dip.

      March 202o was my last scheduled on-site, and I’ve since moved on and hope to never hold a position where I need to fly in for such a time suck.

      I do like traveling for client work, and to give presentations, etc. But flying in to the mothership, waste of time and resources.

  9. ZZ Plop*

    There’s jet lag and jet lag. Mine hits me like a hammer coming down from the heavens saying, “You will sleep. NOW.” So yeah, a chair in the corner of the British Museum under the eye of a sympathetic guard.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Oh, just think if that happened at the Tate instead of the British Museum. People might think you were one of the exhibits!

      1. emmylouwho*

        Been there, done that in both the Tate and the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Can’t imagine if I had to work through that, lol!

    2. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      I’ve never flown to another time zone, but could this have been the employee’s first transatlantic flight? He might not have realized how bad jetlag would get him.

      I’m wondering, is there a way you can factor in a day of rest with your travel for the future? Like instead of arriving in the US on Sunday and starting on Monday, arrive in the US Saturday, or even Saturday evening so that folx can have a day of rest.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      This is what I’ve always thought “jet lag” means, so I was completely confused as to how OP thinks someone can just power through it! Uh, unless you want an unconscious body on your hands, that’s not going to happen! In my vocabulary: tiredness because I’m out of my time zone and have been travelling = “tiredness”. Not being able to sleep at all when you need to + falling into unconscious states during awake time, even when standing= “jetlag”. Does OP really think the worst kind of jetlag you can have is feeling a bit more tired than usual? I’m honestly a bit bemused by that.

  10. Peanut Hamper*

    I know that for me jet lag is worse if I am traveling EAST because I have to get up earlier, and that sleep deficit eventually catches up with me.

    I experience much less jet lag traveling WEST because I can sleep in a bit if I’m feeling tired or a bit under the weather.

    1. urguncle*

      Oh, 100%
      From experience traveling from the US eastern time to EU central time, the direct flights are usually in the evening, so you’re getting a very tiny “night” and get to your destination in morning. I never am able to really sleep on a plane, so I just end up staying awake for essentially two days. This is better than taking the Devil’s Nap, aka a nap at your hotel upon checking in where you may or may not wake up in the middle of the night ready to go.
      The way back is usually a mid-morning/early afternoon flight where you get in around the time you flew out and you can go to sleep at a normal time.

      1. The Traveller’s Rest*

        Daylight transatlantic flights help. Unfortunately, they’re rare. Only NYC-LHR, ORD-LHR, BOS-LHR, and IAD-LHR, and JFK-CDG, if I’m remembering correctly. The time zone differentials means they don’t really help coming from the West Coast to Europe, or (CDG notwithstanding) destinations further East than London.

        1. Sasha*

          Do you think so? I find overnight flights better. I sleep on the flight, have what is admittedly an unpleasantly early morning, power on to mid afternoon and then sleep through to the next day and am ok. I am more than able to sleep for 10-12 hours on a normal night though, if I don’t need to get up for anything.

          I do make sure I fly in a day before I need to do anything though – I couldn’t do a full day at work on the morning my flight arrives.

      1. allathian*

        I think there are individual differences here. I guess traveling east would be worse for most people, but I’m a pronounced morning person and for me, falling back is always easier than springing forward. I have no trouble getting up early, but staying awake when all I want to do is go to sleep is really difficult for me.

  11. kiki*

    “Talking to him the next day, though, it seems that all he was suffering from was tiredness and a few aches and pains.”

    I think it’s also important to be careful when hearing stuff like this because a lot of folks downplay their physical symptoms when anyone asks. I’m definitely like that because I don’t want folks to worry about me. Once I had a kidney infection that was so painful I struggled to walk. But when my coworkers asked, I told them that, “I just felt a little under the weather yesterday but am fine now!”

    1. PinaColada*

      Agree with this, ESPECIALLY if I actually have pretty bad or embarrassing symptoms I don’t want to talk about. Plus he may have been trying to act extra chipper the next day because he felt bad about missing a day. Impossible to draw assumptions.

    2. Paris Geller*

      Yeah, this is actually where my mind went to first–in my experience, if it’s something that knocks you down for a day but then you’re OK the next (even if that one day is really, really bad) most of us tend to kind of want to breeze right by. There have definitely been times I’ve felt so under the weather that dragging myself from my bed to my kitchen in my 600 sq feet apartment was a chore, but I don’t tend to describe it like that to my colleagues.

    3. EMP*

      I was hoping someone would point this out!
      I don’t travel well and the last time I had an overseas business trip, I wound up being, as I termed it, “physically ill” the first night in the new country. As it happened, I still got enough sleep to go to work the next day, but I sure as heck wasn’t telling my coworkers the details.

    4. lemon*

      Yup. I think folks who have chronic medical conditions also tend to downplay their physical symptoms a lot because a lot of people just *don’t get* chronic illness.

      I have an autoimmune condition that causes extreme fatigue and joint/muscle pain, that is particularly exacerbated by the stress of travel. People hear “just a few aches” when the real story is: “my body hurt so much I tried to walk a block to a restaurant to pick up food but I couldn’t make so I sat down on a curb and cried and then went back to the hotel.”

      But it’s exhausting to explain that to people, and to explain that it’s a regular, recurring thing, and no, there isn’t a cure other than getting rest and doing good self-care. So now I just tell them, “I wasn’t feeling well,” and leave it at that.

      1. Loux*

        Yeah, it’s quite possible that he was overreacting about a little jet lag but also quite possible that he has a chronic condition that he is not open about because of whatever reason, but affects him all the same. I get chronic migraines and if I had to do business travel, I would certainly do my absolute damnedest to manage them, but sometimes you just get unlucky or you fuck up and you can’t prevent it. My migraines also vary in severity. Some days I might be able to work through a migraine, some days I might be able to take my meds and be at work a few hours later, some days you can just forget about all that from the outset as it’s not happening.

        I’ve also ended up in situations that I didn’t know would trigger a migraine until I got there, due to some sensory trigger or maybe a food trigger. A lot of chronic conditions do require constant management and a new environment, like traveling to a new country for work, could throw you out of whack despite your best efforts. I traveled to Europe for my grandmother’s interment several years back, and I did not realize that autumn in Germany is basically just a constant migraine trigger, especially when combined with jet lag… yikes.

        Hell, even healthy people can have problems in these situations. Even if Steve doesn’t have a chronic condition, maybe he was downplaying his symptoms so as to not cause concern or whatever, but that wouldn’t make them any less real.

    5. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      You sound like a former coworker! She had severe, recurring kidney infections that she never revealed– she put on her makeup and powered through (honestly i don’t know how, i can’t do that) and all she’d say was she was a little under the weather. Even when she was hospitalized for a week! Unfortunately, that led to a lot of talk about how Jane was so often out sick but didn’t look or seem sick. She believed it would be held against her and so never revealed anything. (Not saying was also working against her, but that was her call. She was a private person.)

      You never really know, either way. This line from Alison really resonates with me: “You can’t really know which of these it was without asking … and the act of asking is more prying than a manager should really be doing.”

    6. Jujyfruits*

      This x1,000! Yes, I really want to talk about the diarrhea and stomach pain that had me in tears in front of my coworkers over breakfast.

    7. Expelliarmus*

      That’s a good point! Even on here, Alison often tells people to keep it “light and breezy” when being asked about anything medical-related, whether it’s an illness or an upcoming appointment. For all we know, maybe Steve learned that from AAM!

  12. WannabeAstronaut*

    I’ve called out on a business trip before due to exhaustion. I do this because I have narcolepsy, and if I am very jetlagged or truly running on empty then I am next to useless. I’d rather take the sick day and spare everyone the embarrassment of falling asleep in an important client meeting, or worse (falling asleep on transit, or while driving, which is a risk I will NEVER take).

    This might be a chance for you to make work trips easier for everyone– for example, adding an extra travel day for large time differences so folks can acclimate.

    1. Bruce*

      Just want to gripe about customers who want to have a business meeting at 9 AM Monday morning when I live 2 or 3 connecting flights from them the other side of the world. Sheesh!

      1. Rainy*

        I went to a conference once in Atlantic time when I lived in Pacific. Breakfast was service from 7:30 to the first session only, and the first sessions started at 8am. That’s 4am Pacific time. It was so brutal, and it had not occurred to any of the organizers that the folks from the opposite coast might have a hard time getting up at 3am to shower and put on conference pants in time for breakfast at 3:30am.

        1. Sasha*

          This is such a US thing! UK conferences (medical conferences anyway) start with breakfast at 9, maybe a welcome address at 9:30, attendees drift into the first “proper” sessions at 10:30 when everyone has had their coffee. Evening conference drinks receptions and dinners are how people network.

          Then we go to US conferences, and you guys are all meeting up for breakfast symposiums at 6am, which to my mind is still the middle of the night.

          1. Purple Halo*

            You get breakfast??? So jealous right now. I’m happy if we have a near to 9am start time at whatever local time is.

            I really think there would only be 1 8o’clock in your schedule – and that will always be dinner/drinks.

        2. JustaTech*

          I once had the opportunity to go to a scientific conference where one day started with champagne breakfast at 7:30, then a full day of really intense scientific talks, then happy hour, then dinner, then the “Early career scientist” networking session that ran until 10pm.
          The next day was lighter only in that there was no champagne breakfast.

          I picked a different conference.

    2. Chairman of the Bored*

      “This might be a chance for you to make work trips easier for everyone– for example, adding an extra travel day for large time differences so folks can acclimate.”

      This is an excellent approach and I advice all managers to adopt it if their employees want.

      2 of the guys on my team always travel Friday night for international trips where they need to start Monday morning, because that ~1.5 days of acclimation time makes a very large difference in their ability to function.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        It used to be, when I traveled, that flying over a Saturday actually was more cost-effective as well, even factoring in the hotel stay. I’ve not done international travel in a few years, so I don’t know what the new normal is in flights and hotels. But, if still true, that’s the way I’d encourage people to go if I were in charge.

    3. WomEngineer*

      I agree with making the trip easier on everyone if LW can. It sounds like LW and at least one other employee were struggling too.

    4. Caramel & Cheddar*

      This is what I was coming here to suggest — if you can give people some acclimation time, it can make a huge difference. I read somewhere once that you basically need a day per hour of time change when it’s more than one or two hours. A lot of trips might be over before you’d be fully able to acclimate depending on where you’re going, of course!

    5. WantonSeedStitch*

      I absolutely think that scheduling an acclimation day is a good idea for business trips, to ensure everyone is ready to actually work when the work is scheduled to start, rather than being foggy and miserable. That said, the OP says that their employee called in sick on *day four* of the trip. That’s what makes me wonder if the employee was actually suffering from jet lag. I feel like by that time, you’d catch up at least a little, unless your schedule on the trip has been really punishing.

      1. SometimesMaybe*

        I don’t think scheduling extra days an employee has to be away from home is a good idea. I believe a lot of people will not take the extra day. Employees with young children, health problems, and other life commitments will most likely bristle at the request to waste a day resting even if it may (or may not) improve their performance. And if the extra day is made optional, I can foresee employers prioritizing sending those that do not require the extra days due to cost.

      2. Clover*

        i’ve been in the exact situation of calling in on day 4 … because I’d powered through three days of jet lag and then just hit a wall. It definitely happens!

        1. Le Sigh*

          Yeah I’ve taken a lot of cross country trips in the U.S. for work and very often either take a later flight and struggle to sleep once I get in, or have to go straight to the office after getting up at 4am for my flight. And then it’s three straight days of meetings and events, during which I try my best to sleep a full night and keep my schedule in check, but it’s challenging. If you don’t give yourself any breather to recover, you might in fact feel pretty crappy on Day 4. Or you finally get home after a week away and come down with a nasty chest cold.

        2. Beautiful Tropical Fish*

          Same. I recently returned from Europe to Australia (my first time travelling that journey, having travelled between Australian and the USA many times before) and I was shocked by how wrecked I was. The first few days were OK, but by the fourth or fifth day of falling asleep on the couch at 7pm and waking up at 2am, then having to work from 0800-1630, I was absolutely insensible.

          I had two days off work after returning (it was a leisure trip, not business) but I really should have taken the whole week.

    6. morethantired*

      Yes! I also have narcolepsy and if I was traveling with that big of a time difference or a flight schedule that I knew would throw off my medication schedule, I would definitely ask for accommodation to give me time to adjust.

  13. CatCat*

    Yeah, you definitely have to take people at their word. You ever acknowledge that the symptoms “arguably symptomatic of a fever.” I think you’d WANT employees call in sick in that circumstance. Is there even a meaningful way for a person to distinguish what is really happening? It’s not unusual for people to have symptoms that could be something serious or not. I’d err on the side of treating it like it’s something serious.

    Also, as a person who has experienced the fatigue of jetlag, it hasn’t been accompanied by pain for me so that would strike me as a particularly concerning symptom.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      It’s not a cited symptom of jet lag, but any kind of exhaustion can cause body aches.

    2. Decidedly Me*

      Aches and pains are pretty common after long flights – so not a symptom of jet lag itself, but definitely related to travel.

    3. emmylouwho*

      Yeah, we hire human people to do human jobs. So until the robot revolution, we just have to believe people when they tell us they’re not well enough to work :)

    4. Jade*

      Body aches can come from many things, including fatigue, jet lag, viruses. It’s my job to know. When I’m overly tired I feel like a bus hit me.

    5. The Traveller’s Rest*

      There is some degree of fatigue due to the mere fact of being in a pressurized cabin, independently of time zone change. Personally, I recommend arriving as late to bedtime as possible. If a daylight transatlantic isn’t possible, pick a late departing flight (eg, SFO-MUC on LH, rather than SFO-FRA; SFO-IST is also good).

      I also don’t mind connecting in FRA or MUC (I’m Star Alliance, pick a different hub if your loyalty is elsewhere) and arriving, in, say, London in the late afternoon, rather than early morning nonstop arrival. As a bonus you get extra FF miles!

  14. Bruce*

    Jet lag affects people differently too, I’m a lot better at managing it than I used to be. So another thing for the future is to give some coaching. One problem I used to have is I’d go on trips hosted by our marketing team, and many of them drink a lot more than I do. This has had worse effects on me as I get older, and I’ve learned that if I’m jet lagged then 1 beer is better than 2, and zero beers is even better! I still have some sleep issues, but a lot better than I used to. In Munich recently I found that even there they have some very good NA beers, so I can still hoist a glass and enjoy myself…

  15. Carrots*

    I just went on my first business trip since before the pandemic. It was effing exhausting, both mentally and physically. I hadn’t realized how much my stamina level had changed from not traveling for 3 years. I am a healthy 40-year-old, and I was so exhausted on Day 4 that I skipped the big team celebration in the evening to go back to my hotel and sleep for 10 hours. And I wasn’t even jet lagged!

    Lay off the chap. there are dozens of reasons he could’ve been legitimately too sick to work that day, including chronic physical or mental health conditions that can rear their heads when you push yourself too far.

    1. Carrots*

      Also, some people, myself included, really loathe sympathy and do not want to disclose any actual symptoms. So it’s easiest to just brush something off as being “under the weather, no big deal.”

      1. Mim*

        Yes this! I said something similar in my comment. One of the reasons I hate being sick is that people ask you what’s wrong. If you’re not my doctor, you can’t fix it, so please let me just be alone and rest. (I don’t know if this is a common feeling, but I’m at the point where I don’t even tell my spouse I’m feeling under the weather unless it’s really bad because I just don’t understand what I’m supposed to tell people — do you want a list? What are you going to do with that information? Why are you making me explain myself when I feel like shit? Ugh.)

        1. littlehope*

          Oh yeah. Let me just say I’m not feeling great. Don’t make me describe it in detail, then explain how that’s possible, yes, really, no, that happens a lot, yeah, it’s normal for me, no, the doctors can’t do anything about it, yes, it is tough sometimes, no, yoga won’t help, yes, I am pretty sure it’s not psychological, well, I’m sorry that was a downer on the conversation but you were the one who insisted we discuss it, and now I have to comfort you about it…Please just let me gloss over it!

          1. littlehope*

            And I mean, that’s chronic illness, but honestly I feel exactly the same about it when I’ve got a cold or something!

          2. Poppy*

            “no, yoga won’t help”

            And nor will kale. Nor will any or the hundred and one other things that your interlocutor will come up with on the spur of the moment. Really, why don’t these people become doctors?

          3. boxfish*

            oh man, you’ve really encapsulated the Chronic Illness Experience right here. it’s exhausting isn’t it. solidarity!

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          That seems… concerning honestly. Obviously no one needs to share that information with coworkers but there are lots of things a spouse could do to help if they knew what symptoms you are having and just powering through because you’re afraid of them even asking about it seems like something worth addressing

    2. Prospect Gone Bad*

      Agreed! I went half-way across the country and was exhausted. I think the stress of worrying about it all led to a few nights of partial sleep, then the stress off delayed flight, and not knowing if it would actually take off, etc. Then even if you are healthy, stuff like digestion gets off and you may feel just blah for the first few days

      I went to Europe a few times for work and would really expect leniency, especially since most flights involve staying up all night and landing in the morning!

    3. Boolie*

      Very true…I traveled eastward on a 10-hour flight and could not sleep for 36 hours. I don’t even have any diagnosed mental health issues but I was a sobbing mess because…??? Looking back, if it happened while I was supposed to WORK it would not be a good look at all.

  16. Clover*

    I once went on a two-week work trip to Europe and didn’t really sleep at all for the first three nights. I had a hip injury that had been exacerbated by sitting so long on the plane, and between the pain and the fatigue I was useless by the fourth day.

    I had dragged through the first three days, doing the best I could. on the fourth day, over breakfast with a colleague, I burst into tears and told him I just could not. I wasn’t sick per se, but I have never in my life felt so strung out. m colleague told our director I needed a sick day and I spent the day sleeping in my room with the blackout drapes drawn.

    I was tremendously productive for the remainder of the trip, bringing my A game to some truly difficult challenges and finding solutions. I couldn’t have worked at that level without taking a rest day, and I still think it’s the right call.

    I think if you’re so tired you can’t function, it makes way more sense to take a rest day to get back on track than to keep slogging.

  17. Garblesnark*

    I’m disabled, and every time I travel very far it takes me at least a whole day to recover. At home, I can always manage my symptoms by reclining or adjusting my environment. Even at the office, my accommodations grant me a space where I can set the light to a level that doesn’t set off my sensory issues and a chair that lets me sit in a way that’s workable for my body.

    At an airport, I have no control over the environment – and the lights, sounds, and smells (not to mention the TSA!) are inherently physically painful for me. There is almost guaranteed to be no seating that makes my body comfortable, and the pain builds up pretty quickly for me in an inappropriate chair. (One exception: there was a private women’s space in the Doha, Qatar airport that was perfect for me when I was there in 2018.)

    And that’s not to mention how the change in time zones affects me – I have medications that have to be taken at precisely the same time every day, and I need 9 consecutive hours of sleep in order to function. On a business trip, this leaves me with the option to take my meds at 2 am local and suffer, or take my meds at a different time than usual and suffer.

    All that said, I wonder if Steve would have benefitted by getting to set his travel days differently. I don’t currently have a job that does much in way of business trips, but to travel for work I would need – at minimum – 36 hours in the destination before any work was expected of me in order to function, and the same on the way back.

  18. fort hiss*

    I had one business trip that I wonder if I misstepped with. It was before I knew I had an allergy that causes me to get very sick if I eat that food (not anaphylaxis, but pretty bad; diarrhea, hives, headaches, brain fog, sometimes vomiting).

    We had evening setup for a big public event the next day and I wiped out rather than go, had to get someone to bring me Pepto and painkillers. But I was mostly okay the next morning and it was event day, so I sucked up any remaining discomfort and went. The VP said she was surprised to see me after she heard I couldn’t make it the night before. I let her know I wasn’t 100% but wouldn’t miss it if I could make it, and since I thought it was something I ate at the time, I didn’t think I was contagious. She said it was good to see me but I always wonder if maybe it looked like I had been faking it the night before? Still haunts me.

    1. Decidedly Me*

      I doubt she assumed you were faking. Unless you had a habit of flaking on things when you didn’t want to do them, her statement was very likely genuine.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I’d feel the same way. It sucks and I empathize. But remind yourself that she has her own stuff going on and barely remembers!

    3. Mad Harry Crewe*

      It’s ok to let it go. It sounds like this was far in the past, you were actually correct in your assessment (it was something you ate), and you were telling the truth the whole time. Unless you continue to interact with this person or the event continues to have an impact on your career (which would be weird!), just let it go. And if it does continue to have an impact (which would be weird!!), then check in with the person who’s making it weird and ask if they have concerns about your work.

      Any reasonable manager is judging you on your body of work, not for a single off day.

      1. fort hiss*

        Yeah not only has she left that company, and I have been told she really liked me, but so have I! AND YET the awkward anxiety when I remember it persists. Thankfully it isn’t like I think of it that often, but this post sure brought it up!

        1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

          Honestly I can imagine she probably thought you spent a few hours on the toilet thinking you were going to die, but then felt better after you got off the toilet, because GI symptoms are weird like that.

          I can’t imagine she thought you would have been faking.

        2. inksmith*

          When I say I’m surprised to see someone I manage the day after they were sick, I usually mean it as the start to asking if they’re sure they’re well enough to be back, and not dragging themselves in because they feel like they have to but aren’t really well enough. It would never occur to me that you’d been faking it, honestly, unless you were super unreliable, which it doesn’t sound like you were.

  19. Cece*

    It might also be worth looking at your travel/expenses policy to see if it’s possible to build in a day to recover from long-haul travel. My employer has a policy (which is rarely followed, to be honest, but at least it’s there) to allow for an extra night in a hotel between arrival and having to actually work.

    1. Sambal*

      Yes, the two immediate questions that came to mind was: a. did they fly Steve business class? b. did they give Steve an extra day to recover?

      Without those two things, I don’t think I would say anything as a manager.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        Seriously, if you fly your people internationally and put them in Economy and expect them to show up wide-eyed and bushy-tailed the next day…well you get what you pay for. Tired employees.

    2. MCS*

      Yes, that’s a very good point. If a company needs you to take a long flight to a different time zone, they should bear the cost of you being able to recover rather than you having to just power through it miserably and then get home and have to use your own personal time to recover from a trip you would never have taken for your own benefit.

  20. urguncle*

    I regularly travel ~6 time zones away and I’ve noticed a huge difference in arriving the day before I’m expected to be in the office vs arriving the morning of. That usually means my 30 hour day is the day before I’m expected to be a human and go to dinners and happy hours and crash into bed at 9pm. I’m pretty picky with my sleep hygiene, but this has worked for me, along with one evening during the week when I can get some alone time.

  21. Catwhisperer*

    If Steve needs to go on routine trips it might be worth it to check if he should fly in a day early, like on Sat instead of Sun. My last job let us do that and it was really helpful for jetlag, especially since we flew internationally. Our hotels were covered the extra day but our per diem only applied to meals during the work week.

    Sure, that solution means an extra day of hotel costs, but that’s usually a lower cost to the business than losing a full day of work from a full-time employee.

      1. Catwhisperer*

        We didn’t, but it was fully optional and most of us were excited to have a free day in a fun city we wouldn’t otherwise go to. Some people flew in Sunday evenings and left immediately after the last meeting on the last day of the trip, which was totally fine in our work culture.

        I should also mention for OP that this was a FAANG company, so if they’re wanting to be on par with industry leaders they should at least consider giving more flexibility around an extra day.

  22. My cat's name rhymes with mustard*

    My first business trip I ended up with a migraine, laying on a couch in an office with no pain meds. I fully knew I got migraines from changing my schedule, amplified by getting up early but was so stressed about doing the right thing workwise that I didn’t think about doing the right thing body/mind wise.

    I survived, went on to travel for 15 more years until the pandemic stopped it and only had claim too sick to work one more time after picking up mean germs on a plane.

    Hopefully employee will take this as a learning experience and prepare for it on the next trip.

  23. Mim*

    I think this is a good example, for employees, of why less is more when calling out sick. Don’t give details! (Though of course use good judgment when it’s an edge case and it would be worse than usual to miss work, as might be the case in this scenario.)

    And while I try to practice that advice, I also feel really bad and awkward doing it. But I’m also a terrible liar, and if I found myself unable to come in to work because of something super embarrassing (say, explosive diarrhea) I could absolutely see myself over-explaining some vague lie about my symptoms out of panic. And in general, I am bad about explaining symptoms even in situations where it’s less awkward — I tend to underplay things because I don’t want to worry people. (I also feel like discussing one’s symptoms is kind of like that dancing about poetry thing, or whatever the line is. I really don’t understand how to do it effectively, and especially suck at it when I’m feeling sick enough that someone wants me to explain my symptoms to them.)

    Specific to this situation, let’s not forget that airplanes are still pretty high risk for catching covid. Enclosed space, recirculated air, almost nobody masking, etc. Even if not covid, airplanes are a great place to catch any number of airborne diseases. Jet lag + virus could absolutely combine to cause fatigue, aches, etc. I love the advice to clarify expectations in general, but also to believe people in the moment when they say they aren’t well enough to do something.

    1. Nesta*

      Absolutely true! In a former retail job, if I needed to be out, I just always said I was sick. The one time I gave any details, the manager dismissed me because in her opinion, it wasn’t that bad or a reason not to come in.

  24. Green Goose*

    This is such an interesting question. Half of my family lives abroad so there is a lot of international travel that happens with both my and my spouses family. One of my family members does really poorly with jet lag. She says that for a few days she feels as if she has been drugged and can barely function.

    The rest of us definitely don’t feel great, but going on a short business trip from London to the US sounds terrible, and I say this as someone who has been on many planes for both personal and work trips. I wonder if its possible in the future to build in rest days for a trip like that. I know it makes it a lot more expensive but that’s a lot to ask of someone at work.

    I also used to travel regularly for work, and the further away the trip was and the bigger time difference, the more exhausting it was. I’m an extrovert but even for me, doing a west coast to east coast trip was really draining, losing an entire day just getting to the destination and flying in economy was not comfortable or relaxing and then huge all-day meetings starting first thing the next day was tough. I didn’t call out sick, but I was pretty drained. I’ve luckily not had to share rooms, but on one trip I had to share a suite with my boss that included a shared bathroom and it really sucked. I felt like I could only sit on my bed with the door closed if I wanted to relax, and had to coordinate way too much if I even wanted to just use the bathroom.

    I have other questions too, like did they get to fly first/business class on the way there? Were they sitting with colleagues or on their own? How long/comfortable was the travel from their airport to their final destination? How much downtime did they get after landing and before they were next expected to be “on” for work? Were they given a few days off (without docking PTO) to recuperate after they returned?

    I agree that you should talk about expectations with them moving forward, but it’s good to consider how comfortable the trip was for the employees as well.

  25. WomEngineer*

    I agree with making expectations regarding attendance clear in addition to information about the schedule/workload. Is this like a normal work week, or is it jam packed with meetings or stuff outside of work? Also, LW and at least 1 other coworker were feeling bad from jet lag / low sleep too. Would it be feasible to travel a day earlier to recharge before the workweek?

  26. LTR FTW*

    I guess I’ll be the outlier here. I do a decent amount of business travel, including overseas. I would be pretty put out if someone on my team called out on an overseas trip just because they were tired. It’s a rare opportunity, getting our international team together, and it’s also a *significant* cost investment to make that happen.

    I get tired/jet-lagged, too… but I understand that the expectation is to suck it up and show up, because this time isn’t something we can make up later. I could see a team member deciding to sleep in and join the rest of the team later in the day… but missing a whole day wouldn’t sit well with me. I’d roll with it, because you’re not supposed to question someone’s illnesses… but it honestly would skew my perception of that person’s professionalism going forward.

    Food poisoning or other gastro stuff, sure… but just being tired would not be a great look as far as I’m concerned.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Hmmm….would you be the person complaining when they looked like they were about to fall asleep all through a meeting, though?

      1. LTR FTW*

        Usually we’d all just laugh about being jet lagged if someone seemed snoozy. I’m not a monster. I just think there are times you try to suck it up when you don’t feel great and an overseas business trip should be one of them.

      2. Le Sigh*

        I think the bigger thing to me is to not assume it *was* just tiredness. Steve’s words make it sound that way, but it’s quite possible it was worse than he indicated and he just didn’t want to go into detail. I don’t think it’s good to miss business travel days if it can at all be helped, but I also think letting a one-time incident skew your perception isn’t great either.

    2. Marz*

      This is why I commented saying, focus on what they said they are able to do. Because this judgement, and it is a judgement, which is fine, except it relays on your interpretation of what he felt and should have been able to do. He said of “I’m sick, I can’t come in” and that was fine, and then some kind of discussion of his symptoms that occurred later turned that into, “he wasn’t that sick, and he could have come in. It would have been different if he was sick in a way that makes more sense to me, but he was “just tired”.”

      And clearly, he said too much, but it was probably friendly interest, like, you/the boss just sympathetically saying, “how are you doing?”, he said some things that were interpreted to mean he was really pretty much fine and now his boss is silently judging his professionalism, instead of trusting his judgment that he was sick and couldn’t come in. Like, I get how you got there, but he was experiencing this and you weren’t, and also, if you know you’re prone to this kind of deciding what counts as sick enough, maybe don’t ask for details/any leading questions, for everyone’s benefit.

    3. Rebusrex*

      Mmm… would you be okay if they had a car accident because they were impaired on a business trip had had to drive a rental car. I remember once in my science career an occasion where there was a lab party for something like a big publication or new grant… I don’t remember. The big bosses called us into the conference room where there was cake and champagne. My wonderful supervisor told as we returned to the lab to finish up to go home and have an enjoyable day since we weren’t going to do any real science today; the work we did involved meticulous timed assays.

      1. LTR FTW*

        Yes, I’d be thrilled if they had an accident. /s

        Of course I don’t want people driving impaired. I don’t know what that has to do with this particular scenario?

        1. Beveled Edge*

          We’re saying that Steve might have been that bad, that his tiredness might have been bad enough to fall down if he tried to walk or been unable to safely drive himself to work. I think you’re missing the point of how much sleep dep can screw up a person’s body. I’ve had sleep dep give me intense vertigo, so bad that I couldn’t see straight ahead of me.

          1. amoeba*

            I wouldn’t assume that everybody drives themselves into the office for that kind of trip, though? Renting individual cars (and staying in different hotels?) sounds unlikely if they go as a group. Doubly so for Europeans, would never even occur to me a possibility.

        2. Glen*

          fatigue is a major risk factor for traffic accidents, right up there with alcohol, so when you insist people should power through – without even knowing just how bad their fatigue is or, indeed whether or not they were actually I’ll (even LW admits he had symptoms of fever!) it does rather make an impression.

    4. biobotb*

      Sounds like you only get mildly jet-lagged, and somehow fail to understand that others’ bodies might work differently than yours…

    5. DataSci*

      As many people have been explaining, jet lag is not always the sort of “just tired” you can get through with an extra cup of coffee and yawning in meetings. You really don’t want someone at work if they’re going to be negatively productive due to extreme exhaustion – and it may well be that they managed to power through the first couple days due to attitudes like yours and then crashed.

    6. Joron Twiner*

      I agree. I think it’s like the difference between having a headache and having a migraine. On a normal day at the office you can take off for either one. But on an important day, like when you’ve been flown in on company dime for a business trip, you shouldn’t really take off if it’s just a headache.

      If Steve is so ill that he really can’t work, then yeah he has no choice but to take off. But if it is the common level of jet lag, then yes I would expect him to grin and bear it. This comes with business travel and everyone experiences it.

      OP can’t know which it is without being intrusive, but it would be good to set expectations going forward.

    7. Heather*

      Agreed. And unfortunately I think this take is much more common than the average take in this comment section…of course most commenters on this site are going to say “not everyone can power through” but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be perceived that way in the real world.

      1. Purple Halo*

        I agree the perception of you will be negative. I think the LW is in the norm in thinking less of her employee for being sick while in work travel. But I do think the LW is wrong to have that perception.

        Dishonesty really is your friend when you are sick and you have a boss with biases around which illnesses are respectable and which are not.

        In this situation I’d be inclined to lie so my boss was happy with the reality that I could not work. If it was necessary for her to think I spent the night vomiting I’d go with that. Unless there’s a pattern of the employee taking leave at critical times, she should trust his ability to evaluate whether or not he is well enough to work.

    8. Relentlessly Socratic*

      What an ableist presumption. My chronic illness and I bristle at the suggestion that I am not a professional because being taken entirely out of my element and having my schedule completely off-kilter means that sometimes I can’t perform health to someone else’s expectations.

      And, no, the answer isn’t that I get to stay behind and miss out. The answer is to build in some flexibility.

    9. Frankie Bergstein*

      I’m completely with you. I have done lots of travel for work, and it’s always tired/sleep deprived/running on coffee.

  27. Cherries Jubilee*

    I really appreciate how balanced this answer was, I feel like it really covered a lot of different facets of the question that might not be obvious at first glance.

    I would also say, don’t worry about the American team thinking that someone is sicker than they really are based on your explanation to them – no one really cares, or should. And people aren’t going to then be confused when he shows up the next day, or be thinking he’s contagious. People get that things can happen on only one day. If they end up with the impression that he had e.g. stomach troubles, and he really didn’t, then that doesn’t actually matter at all.

  28. LemonToast*

    Like others have said, jet lag and international travel (and just travel in general) can affect people in different ways. I have done domestic US trips where I feel totally fine in one timezone but completely wrecked in another, and the difference wasn’t even that great. Sometimes you just can’t know how you’re going to feel. I would go forward with the expectation that everyone be present as much as possible, but if they need to rest, let them rest. I would also build in additional days for international trips so your staff can have a day or two before work days. Even for domestic trips, I try to plan my travel to go the day before so I’m not getting up at 3am to catch a flight somewhere to make a 9am meeting.

    The last conference I went to, I had an allergic reaction flare up on my face in a bad way. I was wearing a mask, but my skin was red and blistery, and super painful. I had to stay in my hotel room one day because it felt like my skin was on fire. I was also zonked out on benadryl. I would have been completely useless and not able to pay attention to anything if I didn’t take that time to recover.

  29. lessachu*

    I’m an experienced West Coast to London business traveler and 5 trips in, I totally slept through my alarm on day 3 of a stint in London and wound up heading into the office at 2 pm London time. It happens. Business travel is hard.

  30. Marz*

    I think maybe arguably the more important thing/something that will be helpful to focus on is, you are interpreting what he says, which is not bias-free or easy to do for humans at the best of times, in so far as 1. people don’t always say what they mean 2. they don’t always know what they mean/how they felt/how to describe what they felt 3. they often feel pressure to downplay/overplay/reacting to what they expect the audience wants, especially if that audience is their boss.

    I had COVID and I had to call in to my boss every day (which. ugh.) and every day they kind of asked questions, and I at one point, which was like. day 3 after testing ftr, I said, among a couple others things, like, you know, I want to protect people, better safe than sorry, which I heard later he interpreted back to the team as “She feels fine, she just wants to not expose anyone”, which, while not untrue, wasn’t particularly accurate that I felt fine and didn’t particularly feel good to have him speculate on how well I was doing from really limited information, that I wish I hadn’t had to give.

    As much as you might have made a different call, or think they should have, or could have, I think you can decide, they said they couldn’t come in, and I believe them. Maybe you could have with what they have, maybe you did come in with exactly what they had, but if you can just let that be the end of it, just “They told me what they can do, and that’s true for them.”

  31. JustMe*

    Ohhh this is a tricky one. Because it’s Steve’s first (international) work trip, I would really lean on the side of cutting him some slack. Everyone has different experiences/backgrounds, so in addition to Alison’s comments about the travel triggering another health thing, it’s also possible that he’s just never a) had a flight that long, b) been jet lagged, c) eaten some of the food we Yanks eat. Those things aren’t a big deal if you’re used to travel, but if you’re an inexperienced traveler they can be a pretty big deal. If your company is regularly setting up international trips, it might be worthwhile to establish some formal norms/training packets around travel–not just expectations for travel, but also information such as How to Prepare for Plane Travel, How to Combat Jet Lag, Tips for Working Through Culture Shock, etc.

  32. Angstrom*

    We’ve had long-haul(Asia -> USA) folks come in for training, and we know that for the first day or two they’re going to be dragging by the afternoon. There’s no point in having them sit there fighting to stay awake. We now build that into our schedules.
    I think it’s fair to set the expectation of “If in doubt, try to come in”, but to allow for “If you really don’t think you can be productive, get some rest”.

    1. Clover*

      This is refreshingly humane and takes into account that bodies need rest to function. It’s a feature, not a bug.

  33. EMP*

    People have already said plenty about why it’s a good idea to give people the benefit of the doubt in situations like this (and I totally agree! I’ve been there). I still think your instinct to talk to Steve about differing expectations when traveling vs when at home though, just because there’s a lot you may not pick up on until a few trips in that he’d be grateful to have spelled out. I’d just go into it with the attitude of, “I’m sure you made the right call this time. Just to clarify, this is what we’d expect in the future”

  34. theletter*

    Sounds like it’d be worth it to let people build in a travel day – maybe let them plan on touring Empire State building OR resting up if the flight/jet lag was bad. That could also pre-emptively resolve some issues with delayed/cancelled/missed flights if that ever comes up.

  35. Ink*

    “Aches and pains” throws up a flag for me for Steve being correct about his ability to work. Exhaustion makes my fibro worse- as it does for many people- and I also tend to get hit harder by cold and flu aches and pains. I may not be stuck in the bathroom, but it’s definitely too distracting to work through. Especially when that work involves a lot of conversation, as I assume your business trip did. If my brain takes a minute to reboot while working on a document, I can still come back to where I left off. If that happens during a discussion, I don’t entirely know where I checked out, DEFINITELY don’t know what was said in the meantime, and have probably drawn attention to myself and now people are concerned! So just because it sounds like something you could/would power through, don’t assume that others are the same- particularly if you haven’t had concerns about work ethic, use of sick days, and so on before now

    1. nope*

      Also have fibro, can totally see myself downplaying a flare (and not wanting to discuss my medical issues at work!) but still wanting to be truthful and ending up there. Which is why I only say “I’m ill and I can’t make it” and not a word more.

      This whole thread has reaffirmed that I’m not built for work travel.

    2. Newly minted*

      yes! I sub words when I’m having flares–I simply cannot do words and rely on inaccurate synonyms–and with my recent interstate move I’ve had zero productive conversations with my partner in several weeks because every other word he’s correcting me, amd then I forget what we’ve said. Travel makes this worse, and if I can’t communicate with my partner of 20 years in a flare without a fight, work for sure ain’t happening. Conversations just go badly. And I can’t power through for long. Every conference that’s more than a couple days, day 3 or 4 I end up sleeping a good part of the day even when I don’t change time zones. weirdly, my trip to Vietnam, which was 12 hrs different, impacted me less that way.

  36. Ginger Cat Lady*

    I feel like when you push employees hard enough that there are physiological effects from travel, you should be understanding when they experience those physiological effects.
    Build in time for adjusting to the new time zone before they’re expected to work. Even if it costs more.
    Understand that how it impacts YOU may not be how it impacts EVERYONE. Avoid the temptation to think “I can do it, so therefore it’s totally doable.” – I suspect that’s part of the issue here.
    Workers, even in “desk jobs” are only human and have limited capacity. We are not robots.

    1. Nesta*

      Yes! “I can do it, therefore it is doable,” is such a harmful mindset.

      Everyone is different and every experience is different. I have such trouble now defending my needs because I always think “well, someone else wouldn’t need x, so why do I?” because all such things were branded as “excuses” when I was a kid.

  37. Goose*

    I pushed myself through my first business trip since the start of the pandemic, fretting that I didn’t have the chops to do it anymore… turns out it was COVID. You never know!

    1. Bruce*

      Oof… hope you did not get hit too hard. My first major business trip post-covid I caught it too, luckily the work conference I was at was handing out free test kits, unluckily a bunch of them came back positive.

  38. BellyButton*

    It isn’t clear if he missed anything of real importance. Did he miss vital meetings or was it just be in the office kind of day? When we travel we often have days that are full of meetings and sometimes we are just working in that office.

  39. Arthenonyma*

    I have a long term condition that comes with relapses of extreme fatigue. One of the things that is difficult about managing it is that when it comes on, it feels pretty much EXACTLY like that bit where you’re coming down with a cold or flu but haven’t started coughing or hit a fever yet. The only way I can tell if I’m getting properly sick or just relapsing is whether after 24 hours I’ve developed additional symptoms or if I still just have the “coming down with something” malaise.

    Obviously my situation is specific to my health condition, but having also experienced jet lag fatigue, I’d be inclined to give Steve the benefit of the doubt that he did think at first that he was coming down with something, possibly infectious, and wanted to stay put and see where it went.

    1. littlehope*

      Yeah, it’s often genuinely impossible for me to know whether I’m coming down with something contagious or I’ve just pushed myself too hard! That’s a specific situation that may very well not apply to Steve, but it’s worth keeping in mind that it’s not super unusual for “just really tired” to present as “ill” even in people who aren’t (or you don’t know are) chronically ill.

  40. Coverage Associate*

    Just echoing everyone else that says different bodies respond differently to time zone changes, and even the same body can respond differently depending on particular factors. For me, it is often not only am I in a different time zone and a different bed, I am usually eating very different foods. I might be fine the next morning if I landed at 7pm and could get a quality meal, but not if I landed at 9pm and was stuck with fast food – and that’s with the same amount of time dedicated to sleep.

    I really don’t think that the business trips with work meetings from breakfast to after-dinner drinks are fair to a whole lot of people.

  41. Keyboard Cowboy*

    Last business trip I went on (west coast USA -> Europe) I needed to avail myself of mid-day naps or else risk falling over or saying something very stupid. It seems like a good idea to yes, make every effort to come and be in person since that’s what the company is paying for, but also to be a little more flexible on start/end/break times. Maybe it’s a good place to focus on flex hours – e.g. if I feel awake and ready to work from 6am to 3pm, that’s better than nothing. Or to look the other way if the company usually has a no-naps policy but there’s no safety reason to enforce it on this trip, etc.

  42. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    If at all possible, build in “jet lag recovery time” by adding an extra day to the business trip. Yes, it will cost your company, but yes, you will get better work, better ideas and a LOT of appreciation from well-rested individuals than you’ll get from bleary-eyed, exhausted and borderline-resentful ones who just wish they could rest up from their trip instead of being hauled into the office when they’re going on 3 hours of sleep (if that!)

    1. SometimesMaybe*

      I think that would have an equal number of people who would not appreciate the extra day scheduled. If employees are dealing with childcare, medical issues, or even just not wanting to be away from their life, a scheduled extra day to rest would be a real inconvenience. I understand the idea that the employee’s output might be slightly better, but it would also cause problems if this were to be just an option, because I’m sure employers would prioritize sending people who don’t want the extra day and thus the extra cost over those that would request it. If, however this was a request for a medical reason I could see around that, but I do not think jetlag in it of itself is a real reason for a medical accommodation. Traveling for work just sucks sometimes.

      1. amoeba*

        You could let people chose, though, not everybody needs to be on the same flight! Offer the extra day for those who need/want it. (I don’t have any trouble with jet lag, as far as I know, but would be thrilled by the opportunity to explore for one day!)

        1. Sometimes maybe*

          But honestly do you think employers are going to favor the employees that choose the extra cost. If you have two sales people who could visit a client; one needs an extra night, per diem, and personal health day to go and one does not – who is management going to send most of the time.

      2. Purple Halo*

        I have limited long haul travel experience, and only for a couple sectors. But my experience is that companies send specific people on these expensive trips because they want that person to be there. They don’t just pick a random person who is cheaper.

        I couldn’t imagine them deciding the several thousand they spent on sending someone in a trip was worth it but an extra 150 or so for an extra night in a hotel so the person could be effective is not.

        Moreover, having invested that much in travel – it makes sense to ensure you get your money’s worth from their actions.

        I would be honestly surprised if businesses started biasing selection towards carers/pwd/ or anyone else in the category of needs to minimise travel. And of they did they should rightfully object to being treated unequally because of it!

        1. Sometimes maybe*

          Except its not just $150, in addition to hotel there is per diem and paid time. That is in addition to the loss of work from that employee for rest days. Sometimes specific employees are desires, but how often are others denied opportunities because they cannot travel for varies reasons. More often than not people who require less accommodations get better opportunities.

  43. HonorBox*

    I think a larger conversation is probably necessary. People sometimes don’t know what to expect when traveling for business… illness, expenses, social things outside of the office … and laying those things out probably helps alleviate potential problems.

  44. Hills to Die on*

    When I am sleep deprived, I can get nauseated, double-vision, body aches and even a fever once when I had a newborn. I get extremely sick without sleep. I throw up sometimes before I go to the gym or have an early flight.

  45. Sleepyhead*

    Alison is right about other health conditions being made worse by jet lag. Even a little lack of sleep can incapacitate some of us. Years ago, I caught myself nodding off while driving home from work. I had to turn the car off at traffic lights and train tracks in case I dozed toff (I also rolled the windows down and took other measures to stay awake). If I didn’t nap early in the day, I’d be stricken with vertigo. I stopped going to the gym because I’d fall asleep on the treadmill or be so sleepy I’d just nap in the car and then drive home. There were many times when my brain wouldn’t work (I’m not saying I was slow to figure things out; I simply couldn’t process things at all) – even in familiar locations, I couldn’t figure out how to get home, so I’d just get in my car and hope things looked familiar once I started driving. After I drove to the store, I had to roll the windows down and take a nap before I could even walk inside (that wasn’t safe, but I absolutely could not drag myself into the store). Adding insult to injury, friends would chastise me for sleeping in the car instead of just going inside or driving home, as if I had a choice.

    I was finally diagnosed with sleep apnea, but my insurance company refused to pay for a CPAP machine because they considered my apnea to be minor. This went on for years before I finally qualified for a CPAP machine, and then my symptoms magically disappeared. I lost years of my life to sleep apnea and had the added insult of friends saying, “It must be nice to nap whenever you want to.” Even with a CPAP machine, I have to take medication and be diligent about sleep hygiene to make it through the day. It is possible I have other sleep issues (potential narcolepsy), but the tests are expensive, so I just get by the best I can for now.

    When you set expectations for Steve, please be mindful that “just jet lag” may be excruciating and even dangerous for him. If he has to travel, he may need accommodations that other people don’t. Of course, I’m not saying that’s the case; it’s just worth being merciful while you assess the situation.

  46. Nesta*

    I would also add that you don’t know if someone is on the first day of a more serious illness. Your employee had recently flown, and I also flew recently after several years of not flying. I wore a respirator, but no one else around me did. On one of my flights, there was a passenger who was ill, like actively very ill, and not wearing a mask. I know they were ill because they even mentioned to someone that they weren’t going to let being sick ruin their vacation.

    If your employee is like the majority of people, they were likely traveling without taking any sort of precautions, so they had no protection aside from luck against viruses. Even if they were taking a lot of precautions, nothing is 100%.

    I would hope after the last few years unless there was a serious pattern of issues that we would take people at their word when they say they are too sick to do something and push the culture of “powering through” and spreading illnesses.

  47. Katherine*

    Not sure if it applies here, but if one is too tired to DRIVE to work, and one cant get a lift/take PT/get a taxi or uber, then it absolutely makes sense to call in sick.

  48. I like hound dogs*

    Yeah, it’s not as black and white as “tired from travel” or “vomiting and diarrhea.” I have chronic pain from arthritis and bulging discs, and while it’s manageable but present most days, last week it was extra bad and I took a personal day off of work to get a medical message and take some muscle relaxers. Something like this could definitely happen to me if I was on an airplane or similar or even just slept funky on a different (hotel) bed, and I know it would look odd to my boss so I’d probably just power through it but feel awful. Honestly I have a business trip coming up and I’m already nervous about how I’m going to make sure I have the right ergonomic set-up, etc., or my neck will hurt so bad after the day I won’t be able to sleep.

    And I am a young(ish), athletic person.

    I think sometimes people who live pain-free in their bodies forget that there are many degrees in between Normal and Healthy! and Normal and Healthy with Diarrhea!

    1. Purple Halo*

      Excuse the presumption – but some things that I find useful.

      I find blow up pillows best for the flight as I can adjust the size to suit the seat/myself more easily than a bean pillow. I like having one for my neck and one for my back.

      If you can, get a massage soon after arrival. It might not be as good as your medical massage, but they can help.

      You can make an ok hot pack from a hand towel and the jug. Boil water, pour over towel, place in plastic bag (waterproof bags are best), don’t burn yourself.

      If a massage gun is useful – take it with you.

      Speak with doctor about painkillers / anti inflammatory medication and if you should take before/during your flight to minimise flair ups.

  49. CityMouse*

    My husband was once on an international business trip where he tried pushing through some tiredness and wheezing. His friend/coworker insisted he go in and it was good because he had pneumonia.

  50. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    Is there a way to sit down with Steve and find out if future business travel to different time zones is going to be a chronic problem or is this just a one-off. Because if Steve is going to have a history of calling out during business travel, for whatever physical or mental reason, now might be the time to plan on him not traveling again for the company, if they can do that for his position.

    1. *kalypso*

      It would be infinitely better to allow Steve to have input into his routine so he can travel and do his job while travelling, rather than having networking and collaborative opportunities taken away because he had to have a day off once.

  51. umami*

    I believe in being clear on expectations, but also in treating employees as the adults they are. If someone believes they need to take time off, even during a unique travel situation, then I believe them. I once traveled from sea level to a place that was considerably above sea level and was amazed at just how poorly I felt on the second day. I would hate to think my work ethic was being questioned because my feeling ill was inconvenient.

    1. Three Flowers*

      Yeah, great point. I was thinking London to New York or something, but imagine if this trip was something like London to Denver, with a huge time change and elevation change and climate change! The team would earn a gold star just for getting out of bed.

  52. Purple Loves Snow*

    Another thought to ponder with international/multi-time zone travel is building in an extra day or 2 beforehand or upon return home to allow for some jet lag recovery. Might be helpful to bring up to whoever writes the employee travel guide. You, Colin and Steven were all feeling the effects of the jet lag and would have benefited from arriving a day or 2 early to get some rest.

    Food for thought, as they say

    1. SomethingElse*

      We used to fly in on Sundays for my old job so that we could shake off the travel. It sucks to be there longer, but it also is more optimal.

      Get in and sleep a full night, eat food lock up in your hotel room and we’ll see you tomorrow, eat the costs. I’m not sure why you would want the version of a person who has sucked it up and is trudging through jetlag in the office, but prioritizing reducing the likelihood is part of managing these sorts of trips, in my opinion.

      One of my early trips I had to fly in and attend a “fundatory” work event in a loud bar with my suitcase still in tow. I was 0% present, it was useless.

    2. SometimesMaybe*

      Arriving a day or two early sounds nice in theory, but as someone with young children and outside work commitments, this would be something I could not accommodate. And honestly even if I could, I would not want to be away from my life anymore than necessary. Being away from home is a huge inconvenience for most people and making trips even longer for minimal performance improvement may cause resentment.

      1. amoeba*

        You can make it optional!
        (Also, not sure, if “being away from home is a huge inconvenience for most people” is actually true – I know a lot of people, myself included, who like to travel and would be excited by an extra day, if it’s an interesting location!)

        1. Sometimes maybe*

          amoeba – I mean if you don’t have kids, pets, responsibilities, or hobbies, then yeah its not an inconvenience. Also I don’t think point of work travel is to get a paid vacation day in an interesting location. I love to travel, but going somewhere for work is not traveling for me.

  53. Three Flowers*

    It’s also worth considering what your schedule was once you arrived. Did you all get in and go straight to the office for an half day and then a welcome dinner, meaning your team wasn’t free of work until midnight or 1am home time? If so…don’t do that again. By day 3 or 4, with full days, they will quite reasonably be non-functionally exhausted. Let them take a nap, eat whatever helps them recover, and start work the next day.

    1. Professional Staff*

      I’ve been thinking this too, reading all the responses from people advising to build a recovery day into the trip. I take occasional weeklong trips for work and I don’t want another day away from my family: I want a manageable schedule on the ground. (I don’t get either, unfortunately.)

      Allow a minimum of three hours between checking into the hotel and any evening welcome event. Don’t start work before 9:30 the morning after arrival, and wrap up by 5 p.m. Leave at least every other evening free of official events (if folks want company, they will arrange their own dinners together). Remember people aren’t perpetual-motion machines.

  54. PharmaKat*

    I work in the UK. Here it is legal for a manager/employer to as an employee what exactly the sicknes/medical condition is. If you’re absent from work less than 5 days in a row, you do not have provide a doctor’s note, but it is legal and pretty much a cultural norm in my industry to ask the employee for details about their medical condition. I do not have any advice for the letter writer, but Alison’s reply seems to be a bit out of touch with cultural norms. These cultural norms suck when you are dealing with an embarrassing or stigmatised (e.g. mental health) condition, but I don’t have a power to change them.

    1. Gallumpher*

      Just because something is a cultural norm doesn’t mean it’s a good management practice. Alison gave great advice for being an effective manager in this situation.

    2. no?*

      That is not the cultural norm in the US, asking here would violate the ADA in many cases and well trained managers do not ask. You are out of touch with the norms of the country the blogger is writing from.

      1. PharmaKat*

        LW said that they are a manager in a London office. Thus, the advice “do not ask an employee about details” might not work because it might be against company policy.

  55. Person from the Resume*

    The problem is we have nothing but speculation as to how sick Steve was. “He was ill and didn’t sleep well” but the next day it sounded like he was mostly just tired.

    I’d say there’s a higher bar for missing work for illness while on a work trip because presumably you’re missing some rarer than a normal day at work. Like I took sick leave for an afternoon last week because I was so tired I knew I wouldn’t be able to focus and get much done. (Also I only had solo work to do so much less engagement/stimulation too.). I would not do that during a trip. I’d power through.

    What I’d say if you’re crossing time zones and especially lots of time zones, your schedule should if at all possible build in a rest day, half day, or something. And the traveling employee should do what they can to start the trip rested and healthy too.

  56. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

    I’m finding it a little weird to see all the “just jetlag” comments in the LW’s original email, in AAM’s response, and all over the comments section.

    Jetlag can be pretty brutal, especially depending on where (what time zone) in the US the worker originates, and the overall health/age of the worker. When I was younger and/or living on the east coast, traveling to western Europe wasn’t an enormous burden from a jetlag perspective. Years later, in my mid-late 40s, when I traveled from the US west coast to Paris, the jetlag was absolutely horrendous. Jetlag can also make you more susceptible to other sicknesses.

    Anecdotal evidence: in the trip I mentioned above to Paris, the jetlag was so severe for me that I could barely get more than 90 minutes to 2 hours sleep per night because of the significant time differences between San Francisco and Paris. That put me on my back foot for the entire trip and led to me getting norovirus on day 5. I wonder if I had just taken the time off around day 3 or 4 to rest and fully recharge would I have gotten so sick.

  57. Sad Desk Salad*

    This was a really good answer, but I can’t help but think of my friend who fainted at a BBQ last week because jet lag messed with the timing for his blood pressure medication. He’s fine, fortunately, but it was scary and something I hadn’t considered since I don’t take any time-sensitive medications. I think Allison’s answer is very valid, but I also think people should keep in mind that not everyone can just “suck it up,” and lack of sleep can be very dangerous. Don’t they say driving while sleepy is as dangerous as DUI?

    1. Breaking Dishes*

      I don’t know the statistics, but my daughter died in an auto accident due to falling asleep at the wheel. Not due to international travel, but due to keeping very irregular hours.

  58. Beveled Edge*

    I hope the LW takes another look at how such trips are structured and builds in more recovery time for the folks who are flying across the world. Even just jumping a couple of time zones plus the pressure to make every moment of the onsite worth it can really take it out of you. If you make plans factoring in the potential for exhaustion, you’ll be a lot more effective through the whole trip and avoid burning everyone out so badly that your employees will be out sick after the trip.

    1. Beveled Edge*

      Plus that go-go-go mentality works for extroverts but introverts will get wiped out faster, which can have negative physical effects if you don’t take time to recover.

      1. Jessica*


        Everyone, please stop getting your information about introverts and extroverts from social media.

        Introverts need alone time to recharge, extroverts need people time to recharge. That’s the difference. That’s it.

        There are socially anxious extroverts, quiet and shy extroverts, and extroverts who are easily tired by large gatherings and go-go-go schedules (hi there! I’m an extrovert who literally gets tired and headachy and has trouble emotionally regulating if I’m not around people every day, but “people” generally means “a close friend or two, or going to a quiet coffee shop where there are people around”).

        And there are center-of-attention introverts (hell, a lot of the most egotistical theater people I’ve known have been introverts), loud party-loving introverts, and so on.

        The difference is not what you like doing, it’s what you need to recharge.


        Most people are neither. Most people are ambiverts. Whether someone emotionally regulates better alone or around others is highly contextual. Carl Jung, inventor of the introvert-extrovert rubric, said himself that there was no such thing as a “true” introvert or extrovert, and that “if such a creature did exist, he would be in a madhouse.”

        The idea that humanity is divided up into quiet bookish thinkers and loud party people is both silly and counterproductive.

        1. SometimesMaybe*

          THANK YOU! I hate the way these terms are misused and somehow become people’s entire identity

        2. Joron Twiner*

          Yes thank you. I doubt there are many extroverts who would feel recharged after a work business trip!

          1. MCS*

            Unfortunately, the extroverts who feel recharged after a work trip are all getting promoted into positions where they can make the rest of us stick to grueling itineraries with no recharge time because “you don’t need it! I’m fine! I took a 48-hour-flight and a quick 5-mile jog fixed me right up!”

        3. allathian*

          Yes, thank you. I need quite a lot of alone time to recharge, but I also enjoy being around people. I tend to prefer socializing 1:1 or in a group of 6-8 people rather than larger groups, but I not shy and I don’t have social anxiety. I don’t particularly enjoy public speaking, but I don’t hesitate to speak up at our 100+ town hall meetings, either.

          One of my close friends is an extrovert to the point that she hates WFH and once switched jobs because her employer insisted that as a manager she had to have her own office (for 1:1s, confidential phone calls, etc.) and she vastly preferred working in an open office with lots of noise around her. So she got a job where she can do that. Her current office has a large number of 2-person booths for confidential Teams calls and 1:1s. She’s also a scheduler and doesn’t mind the extra work of booking a booth rather than asking her reports to step into her office for a quick chat.

  59. nnn*

    Also, think critically about the norm that everyone is always tired on work trips. Could this be avoided or mitigated with a bit of an itinerary adjustment?

    Part of being a good leader is improving upon existing systems and structures rather than unquestioningly accepting their flaws

  60. Someone Else's Boss*

    I like Allison’s advice (as always), and I think another thing to consider is how you can prepare your team members for the demands of work travel. Can you start late the first day after a flight, with the expectation you’ll work a little later, also? Can you start with a team breakfast to make sure everyone is eating and the day starts light? I used to travel from Philly to LA twice a month, and I always took my entire team to breakfast the first morning of work. I did this at 9am so it was during work time and it’s a really low key way to start the day. I also found people would be stressed about norms (like how much to spend on a meal, how much time to spend with colleagues, etc.) and I both discussed this before the trip, and tried to pay for multiple meals during the trip to lessen their reimbursement fears.

    All of that said, I try not to make a big deal about something until it’s a pattern. Even jet lag can be jarring to someone who has never experienced it before. Let him take the sick day and if you notice he doesn’t take travel seriously in the future, you can address it then.

  61. Jessica*

    Jet lag can aggravate a lot of conditions that people might not be comfortable talking about, like IBS.

  62. Chloe*

    I travel from the uk to the states often for work. I’ve got better the more I’ve done it. The first time my jet-lag was terrible – it’s worth considering he had never done international travel before. I was throwing up, an awful stomach (won’t go into specifics) and made a right show of myself in the office. I felt terrible. I could barely speak, and in-between running to the toilet and the dehydration I should of stayed away! I now know this happens when I get over tired and have adjusted my travel to always having a day before I start work. I’m sure they felt terrible having to miss a day especially as first trip, they were probably really excited and now feel super bad for having to call out sick. Everyone copes differently with jet-lag, stress and being overwhelmed. I hope they ok

  63. SometimesMaybe*

    I see a lot of comments advocating for extra travel days and I think for people that travel a lot or even occasionally it is not a good or even realistically doable idea. Arriving a day or two early sounds nice in theory, but as someone with young children and outside work commitments, this would be something I could not accommodate. And honestly even if I could, I would not want to be away from my life anymore than necessary. Being away from home is a huge inconvenience for most people and making trips even longer for minimal performance improvement may cause resentment. Also think employers would prioritize those who do not require extra time and thus deny opportunities.

    1. morethantired*

      I do think it’s nice for companies to offer it as an option, and then understand if people don’t want to take it. I used to have the opposite problem where because my boss had kids and he wanted to minimize his time away from home, there were days where we were flying out at 5am and then getting back home at midnight or 1am, rather than just stay overnight. For me, the exhaustion from those 22 hour days was WAY worse than being away from home for a night.

    2. LJ*

      there’s a simple way to be fair to folks – offer the opportunity to the team members for whom it makes sense to travel for business or developmental reasons, then each of them has the free choice of whether to take an extra weekend day. As long as no judgment is passed either way.

    3. WellRed*

      Yeah this is pretty simple. Offer it, don’t require it. My company wouldn’t pop for an extra $200 for me to take a flight at a more reasonable hour than5;23 an (when did that become acceptable?). But it would have more than paid off in terms of my functioning as well as my health (type 1 diabetes). Running around for a 24 hour day with limited food is not pretty and kinda Dangerous.

  64. New Senior Mgr*

    Totally agree with Alison. Some employees lost their symptoms when calling out and some don’t. There may have been more to it than just jet lag. But going forward, have an overall expectations briefing.

  65. anon24*

    I’m one of those people that has run so many times just chronically low on sleep that my body no longer correctly processes “tired” and its way of telling me that I need to get rest is to make me feel sick. Usually when I realize it’s time to let my body take a break it’s because I start feeling flu-like, aches, chills, feeling feverish, and if I don’t lay down I will end up with a cough, runny nose, headache, sneezing, literally the works. I’ve gotten used to that sudden flu-like feeling being my cue to go to bed at night.

    Most of the time I know this is because I’m tired, especially when it happens late at night, but there are times when I genuinely cannot tell if I’m tired or getting sick, especially if I’ve been sleep deprived for awhile and really in need a few days of rest. In fact, there was one I night I felt slightly off and didn’t sleep great, got up the next morning and went to work, and after an hour I told my boss “hey, I really honestly think I’m just tired, but I’m achy and have a sore throat and I’m going home to bed”. Turned out I was in the early stages of Covid. Another time I took 2 days off work sick and I still don’t genuinely know if I was actually sick or just absolutely exhausted, but I felt awful for 2 days and then completely fine.

    All that to say, maybe he thought he was getting sick and didn’t want to infect anyone? And then after a good days rest realized that he was fine and some extra sleep was all he needed.

  66. Wanderland*

    I’ve gotten sick on a business trip and it was my first conference with the company. I got some bug that mimicked food poisoning which kept me up all night. The next morning I tried to push through because I was new and I had meetings. My colleagues told me to go back to my room because I visually looked horrible. I got some food and stayed in room most of day to recover enough to come back. I wasn’t 100% but enough to finish. I was grateful my Grandboss took over my meetings and was understanding.
    Take your employees at their word. Employees calling out on a business trip is probably a last resort.

  67. Melody Powers*

    It doesn’t really look like you’re acknowledging that there are different severity levels of aches and tiredness. You said he wasn’t suffering from anything that you weren’t as well, but I don’t see an acknowledgement that his could have simply been worse to the point where he wouldn’t be productive. Not all aches are the same and not all fatigue is the same. You can’t just lump it all together.

  68. Nelalvai*

    Hmm, I wonder if this is a situation that depends a lot on an individual’s physical response to jet lag. Travel is exhausting for me, and sleep disruptions knock me on my back. If Steve’s physical reaction is anything like mine, coming into work would be completely pointless. My cognitive abilities would be zero, and all my attention would be taken up by how miserable I feel. I know lots of people can power through, but for me, it doesn’t matter how much willpower or discipline I have; it’s out of my control.

  69. Another Fed*

    I have to do a lot of traveling for work and switching work shifts (2 weeks morning shift, 2 weeks afternoon shifts, 2 weeks night shift, etc) and here’s something I learned from a sleep expert that works really well for me:
    when you get to your destination, stay up or go to bed at a normal hour (no nap), when you go to bed for the first three nights take a dose of each: magnesium, melatonin and vitamin D
    It really helps me, I recently took a vacation to Europe, didn’t sleep on the way over much (about an hour according to my fitbit). I was traveling from the West Coast of the US. Did this and really didn’t have any jet lag. Also, I’m over 50 so, I can’t claim youth or anything to push through.

  70. Dawbs*

    Sometimes you have to trust people to know themselves and their bodies.

    Right now, if I get a certain symptom (aggrivated by illness or exhaustion) I can very well soldier through–it might mean meds and it probably means that I wil power my way to work and do my job and manage my life until Friday at 5…at which point I will be out of service and useless for 1-3 days.
    If I have those same symptoms and, say, take a nap for 3 hours and limit my stress, I’ll likely be fine.

    I get to do that math all the time. Monthly, weekly, daily–I’m tracking and monitoring my crap. I do 1-want to be trusted to solve it myself (after all, I”m a good employee who does my job well) and 2-NOT want to explain myself (because saying “well, there’s a fuzzy feeling on my left cheek and the pain in my right foot is higher than normal” does not even begin to explain what I’m talking about).

    I’ve been living in this body for 45 years; I”m really aware of how it works. Assuming I’m a good employee who engenders trust, I don’t want to explain the calculus of “incoming migraine and I can’t crash on Friday because I’m mom-sitting” or “sciatica was aggrivated by flying; I can manage things if I can stand up, but if I have to sit in an office chair today, I’ll end up in the ER next week”. To reveal that I have to advertise my disabilities in ways I do NOT want to because people are ablist and difficult.
    I’d much rather not be sick (or at least be doing it in the comfort of my own home!); travel asks a lot of people. It always seems to go back to ‘if there’s a performance problem or a challenging pattern, then address it’ but if it’s just preference, please trust good employees to make good choices.

  71. Is it Friday yet?*

    OK I have a somewhat related question – if there’s a work trip/ field visit that’s pretty demanding, with long 12+ hour days that start at 6am immediately the day after you arrive (in a new time zone), sometimes skipped meals, and just generally exhausting but expected – and there’s a team member who doesn’t have reliable stamina for a normal work day (regularly comes in late, has to call out sick, even in the crunch times of major deadlines, which has been accommodated for all the reasons in this chat, because who knows, it could be a chronic issue they don’t want to share), let alone a schedule this grueling, is it reasonable to pass on inviting them to the trip? In the case I’m thinking of, they’re non- essential to the trip, and there’s limited budget so they’d be taking one of two spots, but it would’ve been a good professional development opportunity. It would be pretty terrible to call out one of these days for things like jet lag and tiredness, leaving the other person to handle all the work alone, or even getting up late means you miss the ride out. The decision to not include them was made for different reasons and this was not in on the list, but I could see it being one (theoretically). It sucks that not having the stamina to attend means they missed out on a cool professional experience, yet I’d never risk being that second person who has to pick up the slack. Thoughts?

    1. Gathering Moss*

      Is there a reason this event needs to be so gruelling? It doesn’t sound like an especially reasonable expectation, even if people are in good health.

    2. *kalypso*

      You’re essentially passing on them because of an assumption about their physical ability, not because of their work. The decision was made on other grounds, because this is not a valid one.

      1. Is it Friday yet?*

        Well in this particular case, their performance wasn’t up to par, so they weren’t in consideration, regardless of their abilities.

        But I was thinking about it in the context of this question, in a hypothetical way.

  72. tamarack etc.*

    My situation during my stint in the UK resembled the OP’s and their team: Working for a software company with several-times-per-year travel to North America to collaborate with our US/Canadian counterparts.

    I don’t really agree that there should be something akin to different standards for calling out sick in themselves. A better frame to me would be that travel, especially short-term travel such as this, adds particular stressors that need to be handled, and that this necessarily looks a little different than working at home. And jetlag definitely isn’t “the same” for every member of the team! Bodies react quite differently, and it changes even throughout one’s working years. My suspicion is that Steve mostly is better about safeguarding his physical needs, which also may be somewhat higher (management of chronic conditions, for example) than the OP’s or Gary’s. And that’s fine! On the other hand, it’s also more acceptable to be sleepy / running low on sleep at work while on short-term travel. You’d push back on an employee in the home office who complains about lack of sleep, when during travel you’d be sympathetic and grateful that they showed up at all.

    Rather than attackign the situation by speculatively telling people what they *shouldn’t* do usually it’s better to give positive, general direction. And that would include:

    * Telling people that if jet lag hits them, they can go home / take a long break mid-day (if eg. the hotel is next door and they can take a nap) . This includes for example sending Gary home early if he keeps complaining rather than letting him play the hero!
    * Telling people that if they are at work visibly a little affected by travel fatigue, that’s something that can happen, and that sometimes in the inerest of making best use of the short time available it’s going to be preferable to put up with some fatigue, and sleep more later.
    * Ensuring people get appropriate day-off compensation for travel days (eg. weekend travel days), and for example a morning off after arriving late in the day from a flight from a different time zone. In the UK, time in lieu is usually an option that’s easy and informal to implement, and should be used!
    * Having open, supportive conversations about how to deal with travel fatigue, so that employees can peer-support each other in a non-judgemental way.

  73. Pajamas on Bananas*

    This is a place where white collar can really learn from blue collar. The time difference means Londoners who normally work days are essentially working midnights (11-7) when they travel to the U.S., and Americans are essentially working afternoons (3-11) when they travel to the U.K. That’s swing-shift. Companies where swing-shifts are normal include reset days in their schedules, for safety reasons. Businesses that expect transatlantic travel, or any other travel across many time zones need to include reset days, no ifs about it.

  74. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    In the post-covid era, employees are kind of in a bad spot. If you are honest about how bad you felt, you get the look. Should you even be there. Nobody wants to get too close.

    Nobody has ever wanted to go into work the next day and talk about having to live in the bathroom for the day. Now more than ever folks are going to downplay non-contagious symptoms. But then you down play it and were you really sick enough to call out?

    I have had jet lag so badly that it triggered severe headaches, vomiting and other nasty symptoms. But a few hours sleep and I recovered. It isn’t consistent enough to warrant a “no travel accommodation” Back in the day I used to travel ~50% of the time and maybe had 2 days total where I had to throw in the towel

    The fact that it was day 4 says it was probably much worse than Steve let on.

  75. Kimberly*

    The thing is business trips often means working outside of normal business hours bc people are socializing. I think schedules for the visiting people need to allow for a full night’s sleep local time. Don’t expect a person adjusting to a time change to stay up late local time and then have early meetings. Sleep disorders run in my family and that is a recipe for a few of my cousins being found wandering around the lobby while still asleep – or waking the whole floor with the screams from their night terrors.

  76. In Japan on a business trip right now*

    So that JUST happened to me. The jet lag caught up with me to such an extent (no sleep from 1:30 am to 7:00 am with meetings schedule at 9) Bad air quality and almost 100 degrees (pulmonary issues etc) I cancelled my morning meetings off site and rescheduled one for lunch at the hotel and one for 3:00 in the afternoon in the hotel. Had take out dinner in my room. I am in charge of my own time so there is that. 5 years ago I would have toughed it out but now I understand my limits.
    The amount of energy expended in person meetings means I would not have presented my even close to best self and perhaps made a cultural mistakes. Lack of sleep can cause cognitive and emotional difficulties.
    Slept 7 hours in a row last night. Ready for today’s meetings.

    1. Seespotbitejane*

      This is a good point. Did the letter specify where in the US they traveled to? Because I live in a relatively mild climate and I’m hugely sensitive to heat. Stepping off a plane into the desert when I visit my relatives in Nevada is like a physical blow. A drastic difference in climate could really exacerbate a lot of stuff that can make a person feel unwell.

  77. DJ Abbott*

    One of my all-time favorite books is The Firm, and this reminds me of the scene where Avery went to the business meeting the morning after Tammy drugged him. :)
    Carry on.

  78. Tiger Snake*

    And this is why I think that if you need inter-country travel for your job, you should schedule in a day of recovery as part of the trip. Some people can power through jetlag. Others literally burnout and can’t get out of bed. Other people do in fact get sick and would rather than just downplay how serious it is so as everyone else on the trip doesn’t worry about them.

    Fortunately, my work is such that when I need to meet with US counterparts, I can do so remotely. Crawling out of your own bed at 3am is easier than crawling out of a hotel bed after the stress of travel.

  79. I would not take the same person again during B-Trip*

    Next time, we know what to do, if he/she called out during business trip. Do not take them even if its domestic trip.

    1. Dawbs*

      so don’t address this with the employee on question and take scorched earth steps without stopping to inquire if there’s a disability or extenuating circumstances?

      how ableist. and emboding the worst parts of capitalism that treats human beings as disposable identical cogs in machines that grind them to dust.

    2. Purple Halo*

      You should tell your staff this so they know how to get out of unwanted travel forever!

  80. ItWouldNotGoWell*

    I’ve only gone on a few business trips, but if I’d called out sick for any of them without being in the hospital it would have been a major problem for any of those employers. If you’re traveling you’re expected to suck it up.

  81. Seespotbitejane*

    I’m not sure why folks are assuming Steve (or anyone) needs to be told that there are higher standards during business travel. Like sure, set expectations with junior employees, but presumably Steve knows that it’s a big deal he got picked to be on the once a year international trip. I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t understand that on a trip like that the standards are different than a normal day at the office. They might be fuzzy on what they are but nobody thinks it’s no big deal. Also, like, Steve probably didn’t want to miss out either. His first trip like this, I’d assume he’s trying his best to make a good impression. I wouldn’t assume somebody in this position would call out for something they thought they could just power through.

  82. Ginger snaps*

    It’s a tough one – I love the nuanced advice. I work in international education, and travel internationally for work, and we are expected to get over jet lag and get the job done. Coming from Australia to Europe we do long haul (sometimes 30 hours transit) and are expected to be able to handle a full week conference of days with meetings from 8:30-5pm and events at night.
    I have never called in sick on a work trip (and never known a colleague to do so) – although it may be unhealthy, it’s accepted that if you want to do the travel (and for people in the industry it is considered a desirable perk), that you will suck it up and if you don’t, it’s unlikely a trip will be allocated to you again.

    1. allathian*

      It’s entirely doable if you’re healthy and adjust fairly easily to schedule changes. Some people have a more rigid circadian rhythm than others.

      Have you ever called in sick during the first week back at home? Or have you been able to schedule time off to recover? For many if not most people, traveling westwards is easier than eastwards because it’s easier to delay going to sleep than getting up when it feels like the middle of the night. That’s not true for me, because when I get exhausted to the point that I need to sleep, I’ll fall asleep standing up or sitting on the toilet, or even at the dinner table, but getting up earlier is usually not a problem unless I’m severely sleep deprived already.

      I assume that employees in your industry who find that they can’t push through the jetlag find work elsewhere that doesn’t require so much travel, or decide they can live without the “perk” of international conferences.

      1. Ginger snaps*

        I have never called in sick after the return journey (and I don’t sleep on planes which can be problematic!) – usually we can arrive the day before we start (ie. fly in Sunday from Australia – Finland and then start the conference on the Monday).
        You are right though – it does end that people who struggle with the travel usually self-select out, and those who thrive tend to put their hand up. There are definitely people in my teams who don’t want to do it, and that is generally fine, because there are enough who do. Honestly, it’s a huge change from our daily desk work to being in face to face meetings and events for 12 hour days, so some people just don’t like that aspect either (travel issues aside). I know my face hurts from smiling and talking all day.

  83. Not Jane*

    I have never traveled internationally for work, although I have plenty of times domestically. However, I have traveled internationally on holidays and that jetlag can really knock you out! I remember once arriving at my hotel like a zombie and being so tired that I literally collapsed on the bed and slept 11 hours! and when I woke up my neck was so sore because I was so tired I had not even been able to turn the pillow flat, just slept on it propped up sideways.
    So experiencing that level of exhaustion on a work trip would be extremely difficult to manage. I do think the advice given here was appropriate though. I have been sick on work trips and just got by with whatever I could because I’m on a work trip and just had to do it.

  84. AceyAceyAcey*

    “Just” jet lagged isn’t something that everyone can work through. Last time I traveled transatlantic for work, I tried to go to work immediately, and was literally falling asleep during the first conversation I had (or attempted to have). I was sitting in an uncomfortable hard plastic chair, my boss right next to me, and my boss’s counterpart across the desk from us, and I nodded off a few times, slumping right there in my chair despite my best efforts, before they finally realized it wasn’t happening for me.

  85. Mango the Expat*

    I work in international development, and the rules are quite explicit, particularly now that I work on the donor side. You are expected to report to work the day after you arrive, regardless of what time you get in (so if you’ve traveled for 24 hours to get to someplace, get to your hotel at 3 AM, you are still expected to report to work on time the next day, unless you have some sort of reasonable accommodation in place, as I do). If you are truly ill, of course you take care of yourself–when I most recently relocated, I was hospitalized twice almost immediately after arriving, and my team handled it with grace. But those are rare occasions. If you have jet lag, a cold, an exacerbated condition, etc., you are expected to push through unless you truly can’t, as you are using taxpayer dollars to travel and need to be responsible with those funds, even if indirect. I honestly can’t imagine anyone, no matter how junior, doing what Steve did in my field. Of course, I recognize that most fields don’t have quite as rigid standards.

    1. babblemouth*

      Respectfully, this is insane. The human body needs time to adjust to a new time zone, and even in the same time zone, if the trip took more than 10 hours (from South America to North America, or Europe to South Africa etc), the body needs rest. People might be physically present, but the brain on that first day is probably functioning at max 50%.

      1. Mango the Expat*

        I don’t disagree with you, but this is how the major US donor to international development operates. When I relocated to Africa last year (so, a trip of over 20 hours), they expected me at the Embassy 7:30 in the morning they day after I arrived, though I did not check in to my hotel until nearly 2 AM. This was a permanent assignment, not even a TDY where you have a lot to get done in a short time. You can get this altered if you have a disability accommodation; otherwise you are expected to deal with it. When you are placed overseas and travel in-country it’s even more stringent (though at least you’re generally not dealing with jet lag then). Congress does not like to hear about rest days and having bodies and whatnot.

    2. *kalypso*

      So if you arrive at 3am, you’re expected at work at 9am the next day, giving you a 30 hour window to acclimatise. That’s ok.

      But it sounds like you might mean ‘expected to report to work the next start of business’, which isn’t always ‘the next day’. That might be something a policy needs a bit of clarifying on.

      1. Mango the Expat*

        Apparently, my comment needed clarifying, not the policy. It is that same morning. The earliest next business day.

  86. BubbleTea*

    I have chronic fatigue syndrome, now well enough managed that I worked full time in the Before Times and part time since covid and having a baby. There are days when I wake up and can’t walk across the room. Literally, cannot move in a straight line or get through a doorway. I’m often aching and so fuzzy-headed that I can’t be very coherent. “I didn’t sleep well and I ache” is exactly the sort of thing I’d say (and have said) when calling in sick.

    If this was Steve’s first overseas trip, he probably didn’t have any idea he’d be hit so hard, and he obviously tried to power through for the first three days.

    People who have never experienced fatigue don’t understand what it’s like. Thanks to long covid, a lot more people are learning.

  87. I hate migraines*

    I once did a UK to US East coast trip and had a meeting with an external client a couple of hours after getting to the hotel. We travelled in a group and were hosting a number of clients at the hotel, so most people did the same thing with their clients. The following day, I had to repeat my meeting because I could only remember about 5 minutes of it and my notes weren’t helpful.
    I now travel half a day earlier so I have enough recovery time. I had no idea before that that I needed to.
    I know now that I’m very limited on what I can do on the same day as a flight. The shorter the flight, the less turbulence, the more likely I can be useful. If you want physical coordination in the first couple of days, you have to arrange assistance for me because that is something I can’t provide until the day after travel and sometimes not for weeks. Travel removes my ability to fake things being OK.

  88. babblemouth*

    For trips to places many time zones away, you could also institute a jet-lag day – one day built in at the start of the trip for rest and allowing the body to adapt. Some people are lucky enough to get over jet-lag very quickly, but most are not – even those who say they are fine may just be putting a brave face on to avoid looking weird, and they pay for it at some point during the trip.

    That means higher expenses for hotels and meals, but the benefit is that your employees are fully engaged when you are in the office.

  89. JumpSouth*

    I have something related I’d be interested in hearing viewpoints on. I have well-managed bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder but do sometimes need to take absence from work. Maintaining regular sleep is a key part of managing bipolar and one thing that really sets off my anxiety is travel.* I don’t often have to travel for work but last time I did it really negatively impacted me. It was only a 3 hour flight and 1 hour time difference but the flight left at 6am and between anxiety and needing to leave my house at 2am I didn’t sleep the night before. If and when I next travel I’d like to request accommodations like no really early/late flights and maybe even an extra day to acclimate if it’s a long journey. Do people think that’s reasonable? I work for a non-profit so minimizing costs is important.
    *Unfortunately this has gotten worse over the last decade which really sucks. When I take vacation I often have to use additional PTO to add buffer days at the beginning and/or end.

    1. Mango the Expat*

      It is absolutely reasonable and likely the only way you can get such an accommodation. Just keep in mind that it could potentially limit your travel–when I worked outside the government, I had an accommodation to travel business class, but it made my organization take a closer look at how often I needed to travel, which was detrimental to my ability to do my job. Unfortunately my HR rep was terrible and just kept repeating that not having me travel was a reasonable response to my accommodation. I eventually settled on getting a rest day after every trip on each side. Just know that some accommodations can affect how much you travel, which can affect your professional growth.

    2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      A lot of inexpensive hotels near airports will offer a package that might help for those early-morning flights.

      You spend the night there, they have a shuttle to take you to the airport, and they let you park your car in their lot for free. When you get back, you call the shuttle, jump in your car, and drive home.

      The cost difference between that on the one hand, and taxis or airport parking on the other, might be negligible. I recommend you look into that option.

      1. Breaking Dishes*

        I remember taking an early morning flight so that I’d save my employer the cost of that hotel overnight. What I learned was the I essentially lost that first day due to lack of sleep because of having to get up so early. Same time zone. Staying at an airport hotel would have not saved a hotel night.
        Never again. It’s hard to think about how early you have to wake up when you’re making reservations for 6:30 or 7:00 AM.

  90. Skippy*

    With regard to calling out sick, I always err on the side of trusting my colleagues that they know best about what they are capable of when they feel unwell. Giving people a hard time about illness because it somehow inconveniences you or the company is a great way to discourage people from taking care of their basic human needs and ultimately destroy organizational morale.

  91. Schnapps*

    Not travelling for work, but I completely understand being utterly exhausted. A couple of weeks ago I had a few of days where I had problems falling asleep, then woke up at 2am for the day. I was working from home due to office renovations, powered through the first day, and then the second day let my boss know that I had a couple of terrible sleeps and took the second afternoon off. I was at a point where I couldn’t make sense of the document in front of me, and ALL my joints and muscles ached (thanks, perimenopause!). In cases like that, I think “calling in tired” is ok – you want your people to be able to get to the worksite safely, and be coherent. Not doing so is a risk to your employee and your business.

  92. cactus lady*

    I have Crohn’s disease and it is often aggravated by jet lag, and even moreso by dry plane air on long flights, and it can get bad enough that I can’t work. I’m not sure if anything like that is going on here, but it’s worth knowing that it can realistically happen. This actually happened to me on my last business trip when we were delayed on the plane for three hours without being able to get off. I had to give a presentation the next morning, then I went back to my room and slept. It really sucks to be in that position.

    I think in situations like this it’s always best to err on the side of generosity.

  93. Pink Geek*

    I’m a noisy advocate for naps during business trips! Offer a 2 hour lunch break if anyone wants to go back to the hotel and lay down and then let them eat in the meeting afterwards.

    Too tired to work can take different forms. A few years ago I was in a meeting between our EU and NA teams where a colleague who was normally calm and patient started shouting. I can’t help but think the jet lag had something to do with it. Many commenters have said they’re okay for a day or two and then it hits. This was day 3 I think and he’d crossed 8 time zones.

  94. SusieQ*

    Along the “we don’t know what was up with Steve line,” it’s possible he wasn’t telling you the whole story out of embarrassment. I was on a business trip one time where something I ate disagreed with my stomach and I stayed in my hotel room. When I told my boss it was much easier to say general “I don’t feel well” type of reasons as opposed to “I’m having diarrhea every 5 minutes.”

  95. CLC*

    Travel absolutely kills me. I can’t sleep on planes and get horrible jet lag. I have a condition that gives me severe motion sickness that drains me long after I’ve stopped moving. And the general state of anxiety caused by packing, getting to the airport on time, etc is just exhausting. I can imagine a situation where it’s so bad I can’t work—it’s exhaustion from travel, but it’s not “just” exhaustion from travel. Two people may not experience jet lag the same way. It’s not right to say Colin and I pushed through so Steve should have too. It truly may have been too much for him. If this is his first business trip, it may also be his first international trip, trip across time zones, etc. He might not have been prepared or know what to expect physically. And even if he’s an experienced traveler sometimes it just hits you hard for whatever reason. My husband usually has no problem traveling but he had a business trip a while back that completely knocked him for a loop. He may have been fighting off a cold or generally run down or taking new medications or whatever.

  96. BellyButton*

    I travel pretty often for work, I collect the hotel size toiletries and any freebies I get. I make little necessity bags; water bottles, shampoo, soap, tea bags, tshirts, blankets, whatever. I will offer them to people I see panhandling at intersections or take them to shelter. When I worked in an office we had an admin who collected all these things from the people who traveled all the time and would donate it to one particular domestic violence shelter.

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