• Linda Kemp

The Sick Day


To some it’s the Australian way: a sickie; or more recently known as a Mental Health Day. You know how it goes, I reckon we’ve all felt this…morning rolls around and you struggle to lift your head off the pillow. You’re not sick, you don’t have a hangover (well, maybe just a teensy one), but you know you can’t pull a whole eight hours at the office. You grab your phone from your bedside table and dial work’s number, practising your throaty-sick, every-breath-is-difficult voice to leave a message. When that’s done, you sigh, crash back down on your pillow and sleep for another two hours. What then? Well, after brekkie and coffee and a decent stretch, maybe take in a movie, or catch up with a friend for a late lunch, or perhaps just a spot of retail therapy. But what’s your employer’s stance on a sickie? What’s the policy at your place of employment – do you know? Or care? Do you think it’s time that employers relaxed their stance on this issue? If you’re the employer, how do handle the sickie? Let’s unpack the sick day a bit more.

It’s always been a contentious issue between employers and their staff. From an employee’s viewpoint, there are some days when you’re just not up to coming into work. If you’ve got a head cold, the best place to be is resting at home and not spreading the germs around. The employer or business’s stance might be that even one sick day must be backed up by a doctor’s certificate. And here’s the contention, the rub. No one want to spend $80 at the doctors to be told to go home and rest. And you don’t really want to waste the GP’s time either – they are often extremely busy, with back-to-back appointments that often go longer than the supposed fifteen minutes ensuring they run late most days. Add to that, there are folks out there who really need an appointment and by going there unnecessarily means that you run the risk of taking their opportunity to see the doctor. But what do you do if that’s your boss’s stance?

It does bring a cost to your employer if you’re absent. Most of the time, this cost is largely unnoticed or unrecognised by the employee. According to Direct Health Solutions who provided statistics for an article in the Sydney Morning Herald in January 2017, the cost to the economy was estimated at $33 billion*. This cost is projected over the course of a year, and is made up generally of lost earnings to the business or wages to cover staff shortages. In addition to these financial matters, there is the increase in stress to those employees who do show up; the extra workload on that one day can be enough to severely impact on a person’s mental health.

But the financial cost to your employer rarely impacts on your decision. I say this because it never factored into my decision to pull a sickie when I was working full-time before breeding. Sometimes I couldn’t face going into the office – I think I’ve probably mentioned before that most of my roles were very boring (to me, anyway) admin-based jobs – and gawp at the same four walls all day long, while staring at the computer screen with a furrowed brow, moving around my computer mouse (remember those?) to look busy when I actually wasn’t. Time moves very slowly when you’re bored, and the creative juices flow in terms of what else you could be doing with your time. I kid you not, sometimes even doing a load of laundry seemed more pleasurable than being at work. Maybe the question to ask yourself as an employee, is if you were footing the bill for the sickie would you still take it? Or if you didn’t get paid sick leave, would you still take the day off? It kind of brings a new, sharp light on the matter.

I think what we need is more trust between the owners and/or managers and the employees. Studies do show that employees are less likely to take a sickie if their managers and CEOs are decent folk. If you work for a nutjob, you’re not going to feel particularly loyal, right? As an employer, it does nothing to the morale amongst your staff if you run your business like a despot who trusts no one. If you’re a good employer then you’ll know already that the staff you’ve hired are respectable, trustworthy and decent and you can cut them a bit of slack when they’re struggling for whatever reason one day. If you’re a good employee, you won’t take advantage of your legal right to sick leave by thinking it’s acceptable to get paid to sit on your arse at home, simply because you can’t be stuffed; or that your sense of entitlement to free money is greater than your obligation to complete tasks in exchange for payment.

So if you’re going to pull a sickie, try not to be obvious about it. It’s tempting, I know, when there’s a public holiday looming near a weekend (mini-break to the beach house or hot springs, anyone?). Try and think about the knock-on effect to your sickie (the work will still be waiting for you when you turn up tomorrow). And as always, if you’re looking for advice on how to change your company culture or improve your hiring policies so you don’t need to ask for doctors certificates every time a public holiday comes around, The Fiddes Group can help you with that.

* http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/at-work/employers-brace-for-australia-day-sickies/news-story/16b8ebc7e82122d8ee00cba7fda50bfa

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