Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Sick Days

I work in a cube farm in an office building in the east end of Ottawa.  There isn't much fancy about it – I have a cubicle with two computers, two monitors a phone and a filing cabinet.  The recent recession has hit this company just as it has hit every other company so I was thrilled when I was hired on as a permanent employee with vacation, sick days and other benefits.

Most employees are more than happy to take vacation time.  Ours is a company that only lets us carry a very small part over from one year to the next (or we lose it – no cash value) so people actually take vacation.  Other benefits such as a drug plan are used as needed – why pay full price if your insurance is going to cover part of it.  We also get a fixed number of sick days each year.   This company gives fewer than what I believe is the national average however, after years of contract work and therefore not having a sick day allowance I’m pretty happy to have any at all.

So why the hell don’t people use them?  Even kindergarten classrooms have this rule – “If you’re sick, stay home to avoid infecting the rest of the class”.  What is it about this particular “benefit” that people are so reluctant use?  Do they think it’s a sign of weakness to take a sick day?  Do people think they’re going to miss something crucial if they miss a day of work?  Do they think the rest of the office thinks they are faking it to get an extra day off work? 

Any of the above are possible I suppose.  I for one have never thought that using a sick day to take care of yourself was a sign of weakness.  I’ve always thought it was a sign of a mature and responsible outlook and respect for the people who work with you.  If something crucial happens while you are away, then it happens.  Rarely does your absence cause the collapse of the company or loss of a contract.  There are other people who can cover for you and if your absence causes such an upset then the company has bigger problems than a sick employee.  Do people think you’re faking it?  Hmm – that’s a tough one.  Maybe you are faking it and that’s your business, but there is such a thing as a “mental health” day.  You’re not physically ill, but for whatever reason you need that time away from the office for mental clarity.  I believe this counts and is a valid reason for taking a day off work.  Just be judicious with it.

I say all this to the individual who works in my office that came to work last week with a Cold.  Not just a sniffle and a bit of a cough.  I mean a Cold – somewhere between tuberculosis and the plague.  Two days later, the woman in the cube beside him was down with it, then the guy behind her.  And then the person over the wall.  And then one of the women in my quadrangle.  And now me.  So because this one person didn’t want to stay home with a cold, at last count five other people have become ill.  From a company perspective, because he didn’t take a sick day that he was entitled to – there have now been five people take sick days.  That’s five days of productivity now instead of just one.   

And now I have a head cold.  I’m not amused.  Buddy, your stoic acceptance of this pestilence does not impress me at all.  Next time, take a sick day and keep it out of the office.

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