It has been a rough week here at the Full Time Finance household, as the whole family recovers from a particularly virulent strain of the Flu. The one good thing that came out of our rough week was the inspiration for this post. I want to talk about sick time in the corporate world.
Sick Time Differs Significantly by Employer
People rarely think about sick time when they determine a place of employment. And yet policies can differ significantly between organizations. Those differences can mean a lot to your future health and work situation.
For example, most places I have worked utilize a shared pull of sick and vacation days. You get more days vacation then many other comparable places, but you end up burning a vacation day if you get sick.
A relative of mine gets a sick time allocation of a certain number of hours a year. In her case, she can even roll hours from year to year. Although they are only usable for being sick. She even receives a payout for some of her vacation time when she leaves the company.
Incentives to Work While Sick
The problem with both these systems is you are still incentivized to work while you are sick. In the first case if you take a sick day that is one less day of vacation you have to do something fun. If you take a sick day in the later your payout is less when you leave. Now in the latter case, there might be a cap on the payout, in which case there might be some incentive to take sick days. But there is still at least up to a point an incentive to ignore sick days.
The Unlimited Sick Time Option
There is a third type of sick time policy that has become more common in the last few years, that of the unlimited sick day. Basically a statement by the company that they do not track or limit your sick time. I have worked for one company with this policy.
Now the good part of this last policy is there are fewer incentives baked in to skip taking off on sick days. But here is the thing. This policy could be the most restricted of the three options. Because while the statement is that sick time is unlimited, there is almost always a nebulous rule about not abusing them. The thing is “abuse” is relative to a company’s culture. Add in that work doesn’t stop on your sick days and in certain environments, there are unwritten rules that you still don’t take time off for being sick.
My Sick Time Usage
Which brings us to this past week. I’ve worked at my current employer for 13 years. In 13 years I have taken off exactly one day of sick time. That was this week. Driven by the flu hitting first me, then my family and wife. Honestly had I not had the family or my wife not gotten the illness I probably still would have worked through being sick. I know I’m not alone in that. According to studies one in 5 workers have not taken a sick day in at least a year.
Is it a Good Idea to Work While Sick?
But is it a good idea to work while sick? Working while sick, of course, puts extra stress on your body and mind. It might lead to you taking longer to recover. But then again it also ensures you don’t fall too far behind on your work. You don’t let other’s down. In essence, the same reason people don’t take vacation time.
Why It Is Important to Take Sick Time
It is important to take time off when sick:
- Working while sick will slow your recovery. Rest is the best thing for recovering from illness.
- You won’t be nearly as productive as you normally are. Studies show productivity levels drop by a third or more when you are sick.
- If you are slow to recover your productivity will likely be lower for longer than if you had taken a day or 2 before coming back earlier at full strength.
Even so, there is another even bigger reason why people should not go to the office while sick. Your coworkers don’t want what you have. You increase the odds dramatically of infecting them. And if they get what you have they will resent you, which will hurt your career more than taking a few days off where you fall behind work. It also will cost your business organization way more then if you had just taken the sick day in the first place.
I Don’t Go to Work Sick
Now in defense of my poor sick time behavior, influenced by poor work force incentives, I have never gone to work sick. I get to choose when I work from home. So any time I am sick I don’t visit the office. No one is mad at me for infecting them. At very least if you are going to make poor sick day choices don’t let those choices impact others.
Despite the research of this piece I doubt I will suddenly increase taking sick time. Old habits die hard. The reason for my sick day this week was not a sudden change of heart. In fact, I would have taken no time off except for that I also needed to recover from being up all night caring for my sick kids. IE in order for me to take a day off while sick I had to be 30 hours sleep deprived and sick. The joy of the flu rampaging through a young family of 5. As a result, this was the worst case of the flu I have had in at least a decade. It takes me being on my death bed to skip work, unfortunately.
Take Your Sick Time!
So I guess in a way I’m writing this for those younger than me and not set in their ways. Take your sick time. That and hope you and your spouse don’t get sick at the same time as your 3 kids. Definitely that last one.