Where I live (in Australia) we are very fortunate to have an entitlement that many people in the world still don’t have, paid sick days. The entitlement is 10 paid days per year for full time employees. This may vary for some occupations, but regardless the minimum is 10 days.
So, 10 days you can hibernate in bed (or in the bathroom as the case may be) or care for a dependent who is unwell. While on paper this is legally correct in practice things seem to get a lot more complicated. At every single employer I’ve worked for taking sick days has been something that is frowned upon. Here are some of the employer attitudes I’ve heard of:
– An employee’s loyalty and future questioned because she took most of her sick days. In this case the employee suffered from mental health issues which the employer was aware of.
– An employee overlooked for promotion and paid on the lower end of the scale. This employee has young children and a wife battling chronic illness.
– A new employee who took all his sick days as they became available formally advised that he is not making a good impression.
Shane Koelmeyer writes in an article “Sick Leave and the Modern Workplace” at HR daily about the “workplace warrior” and attitudes of past generations who grew up with the mentality that you turned up for work however sick you were feeling. I would like to think that this attitude will slowly die, replaced with a more caring approach, a generation who is taught to prioritise their physical and mental health.
An Australian Institute of Family Studies article “Missing Work to Care for Sick Children” by Audrey VandenHeuvel makes a number of interesting points, including:
– “How mothers viewed the assistance and sympathy of their employer towards work and family issues was related to taking time off.”
-“Fathers who held jobs with higher occupational status than that of their wife were less likely than other fathers to have missed work.”
– “Figures suggest that on occasion, employed parents lack any alternative to deal with the sickness of their child and thus must send the child off to school or child care centre. It is unlikely that such a ‘solution’ is satisfactory to parent, child, or regular carer.
This article was written in 1993 and while I would like to think that a lot has changed since then my experience out in the corporate world suggests that we still have a long way to go.
In a kinder more caring world:
– Employees are not judged for how many sick days they have taken. It’s not fair to judge people because they don’t look physically ill. An Australian Counselling article “Good Mental Health: Maintain Yours With A Regular ‘Mental Health Day‘”looks at the importance of mental health and how taking a day off to deal with stress and relationship issues should be normal not an exception.
– There is gender and hierarchical equity. Yes it looks like we’re talking about you male executives. Lead by example and prove that good employees can also be good parents who take an equal role in caring for sick children.
– We have a better way of handling sick leave for families or those who need more.
It’s a well known fact, kids pick up lots of bugs and get sick. They then need caring for and possibly also pass those lovely bugs onto their parent’s. Ultimately parent’s are hit with the double whammy, care for your kid while they’re sick and then care for yourself because you caught the bug too. Think of a simple cold and you can easily see how that could easily turn into a week off work. Our entitlement in Australia is 10 days – which honestly doesn’t go far, especially when you consider you won’t likely take those 10 days because of employer perceptions of people who do. It’s easy to see then why kids are sent to school and day-care when they’re unwell and why parent’s have to be that workplace warrior – potentially infecting their colleagues.
Your call to action is to question your own attitudes to sick leave and whether they are healthy for you, your family, your community and your organisation.