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Working Sick – Part 1: How Helpful Is That?

April 30th, 2010 by – Marijke Durning

The alarm goes off, you have to get ready for work. But as you get out of bed, the room spins and your head aches. What to do? You have to be at work in 90 minutes, it’s too late to call in sick – or is it?

In an ideal world, if you are sick, you stay home. Employers are understanding, workers are found to replace you, and you recover quickly to return to your job, whole and healthy. That’s Utopia though. This is real life.

In today’s work world, calling in sick is often frowned upon, no matter what your profession. Some people take great pride in “never missing a day because I’m sick!” Other people feel that their job is at risk if they do call in sick or they are paid per diem and can’t afford to call in sick. But is going in to work sick really the answer?

Let’s look at these scenarios:

The Person Who Never Calls Sick

Every workplace has someone like this. Nurse Mary is proud of her record of never using any sick days. She saves all her personal and vacation days for just that – personal and vacation reasons. Sick days? Never, uses them. But does Mary never get sick? No, Mary gets sick, just as the rest of us do.

A couple of times a year, Mary comes down with a wicked cold and comes to work snuffling, sneezing and coughing until it sounds like her lungs are going to turn inside out. Once or twice a year, she comes to work with her hand on her stomach, saying that she was up all night with the runs – as she makes a beeline for the staff toilet. And then, every so often, Mary comes in with sunglasses on – she has a migraine and has to move very slowly.

But, you have to admit it – Mary’s a trooper! Anyone else would have called in sick, but not Mary. Isn’t she great? Not really.

In the first case, she very likely will pass that cold on to her fellow commuters, her coworkers and even some of her patients. While a cold to someone who is healthy might not be a big deal, who is to know how healthy the public around her is and we definitely know that her patients aren’t healthy – that’s why they are in the hospital in the first place!

So, now that three or four other nurses on the floor catch Mary’s cold or gastro, they bring it home to their families. A couple of the sick nurses don’t come in sick and use sick days; one of them ends up with a very sick child and has to miss more work to care for the child. All because Mary is so tough and showed how she goes to work, no matter how sick she is.

And at work? How helpful is Mary while she is sick? If she’s running to the bathroom, she’s not available to do her work. If she’s sitting at the nursing station, resting her sore head, she’s not able to work. If she’s moving slowly because she can’t move any faster, she’s not going to be able to get everything done. So, exactly how useful is Mary at work?

So, what do you think about Mary? Are you Mary? Do you work with Mary?

Next week, we’ll talk about why sometimes we have to work sick.

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Posted in Work-Life Balance

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