Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sick Days

Sick days are funny things in Corporate America. Being sick generally isn't funny, but the games that companies play with their HR policies to try to prevent rampant abuse by a few unscrupulous characters is borderline hilarious.

Back in the old days (or at least at places where I have previously worked) salaried staff just took sick days as needed. If you were sick enough to go to the doctor, you got a note and presented it to your boss when you dragged yourself back in. Abuse was pretty low, because only salaried staff could do this and back then managers would actually watch your sick days and make honest judgement calls as to whether you were really just having a bad flu season or that you were "swinging the lead". This seemed to work pretty well.

Then came the concept of the timebank and logic seemed to rapidly leave the building. The timebank feels like a devious way to try and get more work out of the employee. By taking the old-fashioned concept of vacation time and adding a few days to it and calling it a timebank or the trendy acronym PTO (Paid Time Off) the companies now penalize sick employees by forcing them to use valuable vacation time for reasons other than rest and recreation.

Naturally, this concept has backfired and as could be easily foreseen, the fact that it has is completely lost on the HR folks. In the same way that being forced to work extended overtime causes people to compensate by taking longer lunch breaks to allow them to run their errands, the lack of real sick days causes otherwise sensible employees to drag themselves into work when they are sick.

This is a problem because sick employees are less productive in terms of real work and there is a huge chance of them infecting their co-workers. It only takes a few of these "heroes" to drag themselves to work during a round of sickness to seriously affect the productivity of a team or even an entire office.

The irony is that most management equate seeing you with knowing that your working. This is obviously not true, but it is their primary metric for deciding whether you are a slacker or not. So, even though you're running to the bathroom every half an hour and getting through tissues like they were going out of fashion, you are seen in the office, so you must be a good employee. No account is made that you are likely less productive at your work, and highly productive at infecting those around you so that they can be less productive for the next few days or week as well.

If companies would bring back the old-fashioned sick days, they would greatly reduce the amount of sick time that they currently endure by allowing sick employees to stay home and recover and not infect co-workers. Obviously sick days would have to be watched to prevent abuse, but adapting the advice to "let sleeping dogs lie", it's time to "let sick employees stay home"!

(Yes, I went to work today even though I was sick! Thanks for asking. :-)

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