So the President of The United States of America has finally called for sick days for everyone. I’m not sure how a decent society has gotten away with not doing this previously, but I guess we can be happy that it’s getting some press and hopefully moving forward.
To be fair, even people who get paid to stay home when they’re sick, usually don’t. Here’s the basic breakdown as I see it. There are 3 groups of people with very different views of sick days.
Hourly employees without sick days: These are the people that are completely getting fucked over. According to the White House, there are some 43 million of these folks that have to go to work regardless of any nasty sickness they might come down with – or their kids might come down with. And of course, generally, these are lower paying jobs in the first place which means that many of these people are living paycheck to paycheck. They need every dollar they earn. Not to go to Starbucks or the mall, but just to live.
If you don’t have any heart and don’t care about these people and their families, then let me give you a selfish reason to care. Jobs that don’t offer sick leave are typically in the service industry. This means retail. This means food. The person who folded that lovely sweater you just tried on at the mall probably wiped his/her nose right before folding it. Congrats, you now have the flu. The person who handed you your burgers and fries just sneezed right before putting your food on the tray. Catch the drift? People who are sick should not have to choose between their paycheck and staying home to recover. The more sick people that quarantine themselves at home, the fewer people that will get sick overall, thus, increasing productivity and strengthening the economy.
Salary employees with sick days: This is the category I fit into. It’s the 2nd best category as far as paid leave. Most (all?) salaried employees get paid sick leave. 5-10 days per year seems to be the norm. This is pretty great as it allows people to recuperate at home and not get other people sick. Plus, none of us are very productive when we are sick anyhow. So why is this only the 2nd best category? Well, the downside of being a salaried worker is that you are typically expected to do more work than anyone can realistically do in 40 hours a week – but of course, you don’t get paid any overtime. But do you want to be the best? Do you want to get promoted? Do you want to change the world? Then you pretty much need to work more than 40 hours at least some of the time.
But what does that have to do with sick days? Anyone out there who is a salaried employee could tell you – no one is doing your job while you are out sick or on vacation. So anything you don’t get done today will just be added to the pile of stuff you need to do tomorrow. In fact, you should probably do some of that work while lying in bed at home. At least catch up on the 87 emails that you missed. This shit is not healthy. It leads to dissatisfaction with life and work, which leads to burnout and turnover. By now, we all know that it is way better for employers to have low turnover rates. Hiring and training new people takes way too much time and money. So why don’t we try harder to help people be happy and satisfied with the jobs that they have?
Hourly employees with sick days: This category is the gold mine. You get paid for every hour you work and you also get paid sick leave! These jobs typically don’t ask you to do more than you can handle in your 40 hours per week because they don’t want to pay you overtime – and they know that you’ll ask for it if you work it. The only downside to this category is that you don’t know for sure how much you will get paid every week. Some days you might get sent home early if business is slow. Some days you might decide to cut out early. And there is no money for that, unless, of course, you can use some of your sick leave.
So there are a few issues that are cropping up here. The most important one is that yes, everyone should have sick leave (thanks Obama). This is good for everyone’s health. It is good for productivity. It is good for morale – which in turn, is also good for productivity. It is good for children – which in turn, is good for society and the economy. The other issue, though, is that people who already have paid sick leave, need to use their sick leave! In every job I have had, there are always people coming to work when they are sick sick sick. And then inevitably, I get sick sick sick. When I have been in a management position, I have always sent these people home. But I think it’s time that we take a good hard look at what we are asking of people. If people are coming to work with bronchitis and ear infections and the flu because they are stressed out about the amount of work they have to do or the bills they have to pay, then it’s time to re-evaluate. And let me tell you, it is time.