Friday, 24 October 2008

Off sick

Some moralistic twat at The Times has launched a scathing attack on 'bogus' sick leave, saying that too many employees are pulling a fast one at other people's expense.

These attacks are made regularly, usually in the right-wing, "workers are all lazy gits" section of the media. But few people put the case for the so-called "sickie-pulling" workers who're so routinely scapegoated.

The Times writer moans that civil servants rack up an average of 11.7 sick days a year while private sector workers only average 7.2. Ergo, goes the hare-brained conclusion, the former are all chronic idlers who're taking the piss.

Well, firstly, who says all these workers are not genuinely sick? Maybe there's something about public sector work that makes you less healthy? Mind-numbing paperwork perhaps, or constant complaints from the public? The wear and tear of the emergency services, or lifting heavy patients in the NHS? It's not always the cushy number others fondly imagine.

Secondly, suppose private sector workers get ill just as often but may feel forced to go to work? If they don't get sick pay, or they're paid daily, or other people are after their job, or there's a vital contract they have to clinch, or it's a family business that relies on their being there, then they may drag themselves in even if they're at death's door for fear of the consequences if they don't.

And thirdly, even if people are throwing a sickie (and haven't we all?), there may be good reasons for such apparent sloth. If your working conditions are poor, if you're overworked or bullied or bored witless or stuck in a basement, then of course there are days when you think "I just can't face going in today, it's doing my frigging head in."

Or maybe you need time to sort out an urgent domestic crisis but you know your boss won't give you the time off. So you cough and sneeze into the phone, make your excuses, and stay at home.

I sympathise totally. Why shouldn't you protect your wellbeing against indifferent bosses? If employers are concerned about sky-high sick leave, perhaps they should take a good look at the working conditions and whether people are actually enjoying their jobs.

I worked at a charity for 5½ years without taking a single day's sick leave. The reason? I thoroughly enjoyed what I did, I had a great bunch of workmates, and the conditions were excellent. Even if I had a nasty cold, I still wanted to go to work and catch up with the gossip.

The resident ignoramus at The Times should have a proper look at the real-life workplace before pontificating so glibly from a well-padded executive swivel-chair.

21 comments:

Hullaballoo said...

Well said. Happier workers have fewer sick days. I have been ill less since becoming self employed and I know I go to work when I am ill sometimes, just because it would cost me too much not to, and I am already on a low wage. And I'm the boss!

When I worked for an energy sapping, drudgery inflicting corporation, I felt unwell all the time, headachy and unfulfilled. That's no longer the case.

Nick said...

Hulla - You're obviously a good example of the fact that badly-treated workers are much more likely to fall sick. And if it wasn't for things like the lost-salary factor you mention, sick leave would actually be much higher.

Grannymar said...

Fortunately I only experienced one phase of employment where I disliked my work. Being early in my working life and living at home with my parents, the idea of pulling a 'sickie' was frowned upon.

Since them I enjoyed my work and was annoyed at times by those who abused the system.

Nick said...

Grannymar - Fortunately I've also enjoyed most of my jobs. And I've met very few people obviously pulling a fast one, though they do exist. Yes, the idea of doing a sickie was much less acceptable when we started work.

Queen Vixen said...

I SO agree with you. If the work place is horrid people will take more time of sick - either genuine because the bad energy has made them sick, or not - because the place sucks.

The best way to ensure attendance is to make it a nice place to be!

Nick said...

QV - Bad energy is exactly how it feels in some offices. You can sense the tension and frustration the moment you walk in, and you just want to get out fast. Imagine what it's like actually to work there week in and week out.

Wisewebwoman said...

I so agree with you Nick, toxic environments make toxic workers and sick can be mental and emotional along with physical. This wanker needs to get off his high horse (or high chair, tee-hee!) and come see what the plebs have to put up with.
I've worked in such environments and they are hell on earth.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

www - Exactly, just what experience does this person have of say, working in a factory, a call centre or a restaurant kitchen? Or any sort of highly-demanding, authoritarian workplace? I suspect very little. It's easy to lecture others from a position of privilege.

Baino said...

Now the 'sickie' is a national past time in Australia . .Gen Y's are particularly guilty of abuse. Because they're entitled to 9 sick days a year, they take them. It has nothing to do with being disgruntled with their jobs, they see it as an entitlement and if not taken . .wasted. I've had 20 year olds with 12 hour back injuries, haemorroids, sprained ankles, gastroentiritis, 'feeling funny' and 'women's problems' and amazingly they recover within 24 hours. If they take more than two days off a Dr's Cert is required so guess what . .they just take one day. The more 'mature' workers I have to demand go home to prevent infecting everyone else and to ensure their recovery. What the younglings don't realise is that one day . .they might that paid leave.I was very grateful for six weeks off after my hysterectomy, fully paid, a month before Christmas . . no questions asked.

Nick said...

Baino, it sounds like there's a lot more sickie abuse in Oz than there is here. I've never heard of any British firm giving an automatic 9 days annual sick leave. Asking for trouble! Yes, isn't it strange how many ailments miraculously clear up after 24 hours? And what are Gen Ys?

gaudiumdegaea said...

NICK!!!!! Wooo Hoooo!

Nick said...

Gayé - Sorry, no speakee the Gayé dialect. I only had a couple of lessons and then I had to give up to look after my sick granny. Does this mean you agree?

Quickroute said...

There were times went I went to work sick as a dog and there have been times I had no ailment but stayed at home. I reckon they even themselves out at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it

Nick said...

Quicky - Fair enough. Swings and roundabouts eh. I think we're all entitled to the odd bogus sickie, why should we be enslaved to some rigid work routine?

gaudiumdegaea said...

nope... let me translate:

Gayeish: Nick! Woo Hoo!
English translation: A little pretty bird whispered in my ear something to do with something happening sometime towards the end of this year...

Is that better? :D

Nick said...

Gayé, that possibility did occur to me. I don't have an email address for you so I'm communicating via Baino. Hope we can meet up if you aren't too frantically busy.

(To enlighten my other readers, Jenny and I are going down under shortly - watch this space!)

Nick said...

Gayé - Thanks for the email address. Have now deleted it.

conortje said...

I always feel guilty if I ring in sick even if I am dying in bed unable to move... and I work in the public sector :-)

Nick said...

Conor - I know what you mean. Even if I genuinely feel terrible, trying to convey that in a few words on the phone somehow always sounds unconvincing.

Thriftcriminal said...

There are different jobs too, an engineering friend of mine was a bit stressed and someone she knew from the healthcare sector suggested pulling a sickie as that is what they do in the circumstances. But what was the point? The deadline wasn't going to go away in the meantime. In some jobs taking a day off to get your head straight pays off, in others you just come back with more work to do than when you started.

Nick said...

Thrifty - Returning to a backlog of work is normal these days. Having designated deputies for absent employees seems to be a thing of the past. Which can make it hard to enjoy a holiday, knowing the pile of paperwork you'll go back to. Just another way of squeezing more work out of fewer employees.