Have you ever skipped a vacation or reported to work sick due to fear of retaliation from your co-workers or employers?
We have and it’s disheartening. We work in healthcare and it’s all too common. The issue usually stems from employers opting to hire less staff and promote overtime as a ‘benefit’. Instead of a solid rate of base pay, employers trick you into thinking you will earn extra money by working some overtime.
But, what happens when that overtime turns into burnout? What happens when that benefit turns into a forced requirement? Your career satisfaction goes down. What makes it much worse is the potential for co-worker retaliation when you schedule a vacation or even take a sick day. A SICK DAY!
This retaliation is simply due to the work environment most employers put us in. We misdirect this anger at one another as opposed to our employers. They really are the ones at fault here for putting us in a position to blame each other. Most times, this can cause a toxic work environment and lead to misery among employees.
American Working Culture = No Days Off (Even if you have paid sick and vacation leave)
Additionally, not taking vacation or sick leave can have serious repercussions and could cause other health related issues.
According to an article published by BBC News in 2016, “Nearly a quarter of US adults have been fired or threatened with the sack for taking time off to recover from illness or to care for a sick loved one, according to Family Values at Work, which campaigns for paid leave” (Sick Leave in the US). Wow, right? Why is this OK?
Here are two reasons this happens. “The hard-driving, long hours culture of the American workplace is no place to risk being seen as a slacker”(No time off for Americans). Furthermore, “No one’s allowed to be sick. Sickness is weakness,” says LeaAnne DeRigne, associate professor of social work at Florida Atlantic University. She adds: “At the very core of being American is the idea of being a hard worker.”
Here’s the worst part, even if you can’t muster up the courage to take your sick leave and you do show up for work, you are immediately hit with upset co-workers BECAUSE YOU CAME TO WORK SICK! Classic, damned if you do, and damned if you don’t situation.
When Not Taking Sick Leave Goes Wrong
As noted by BBC in the same article, “Mexican fast-food chain Chipotle partly blamed a 2015 outbreak of the norovirus vomiting bug on employees who had come to work sick at branches in Boston and Simi Valley, California”. This is what the current American work culture has caused. Employees choosing to report to work for fear of loosing their jobs, lack of actual sick leave, and the culture of being weak for missing work due to illness. Not only did this be a disaster for Chipotle (and other potential businesses in the food industry), but a detriment to Americans’ health. In fact, I can tell you that even though Chipotle has corrected this issue, we haven’t nor will we ever eat at Chipotle ever again.
Here’s an alarming statistic from a 2016 Small Business article, “12 percent of the employees at these restaurants claimed that they had worked multiple shifts in the previous one year while having conditions like diarrhea or vomiting” (Small Business When Employees Are Sick). This was reported from a survey completed in 2016 involving over 400 restaurants. Even at 12 percent, this might make you think twice about the food you are eating at restaurants next time you are out.
More Alarming; Healthcare Providers Reporting To Work While Sick
It isn’t just people reporting to work sick in the food industry that should cause concern, it’s also the healthcare providers that take care of patients while also reporting to work sick. In a report published in the November 2017 issue of the American Journal of Infection Control found that as many as 4 out of 10 healthcare professionals show up at work even when they are sick with flu-like illnesses (Healthcare providers reporting to work sick).
“According to the report’s findings, of the people surveyed 414 (21.6%) of the workers reported flu-like symptoms, and 183 (41.4%) reported working with the symptoms for at least three days at a time. Pharmacists (67.2%) and physicians (63.2%) had the highest frequency of working with symptoms suspected to be the flu. By work setting, hospital-based workers had the highest frequency of working with flu symptoms—more than 49%” (Healthcare providers reporting to work sick).
Why does this happen?
According to the article, “the most common reasons given for working while sick included still being able to perform job duties and not feeling bad enough to miss work. Among workers at long-term care facilities, the most common reason was inability to afford lost pay”. Healthcare workers are likely the worst offenders at showing up to work sick. But is it really their fault? What causes them to forgo using their paid sick leave and report to work anyways? Employers. Staff shortages, the belief that they will be retaliated on by their co-workers, and looked down on by their employers.
Changing The American Working Culture
I encourage any managers out there that happen to read this article to set a new example. Let’s change the standard of being weak and ineffectual if you take a vacation or use your sick time. The only way to retain great employees is to be a great boss. Go against the grain, be different than what you experienced prior. Our lives shouldn’t result in how someone was treated before you. This isn’t a fraternity or sorority. Life is challenging enough. In most cases, people want to work, even ones who might not enjoy what they do, but giving them piece of mind to take the time they need, when they need it is the single most important responsibility you as a manager can have.
The workplace culture starts with ownership and management. Dare to invest in your employees’ health. I promise it will pay off for them and your business will continue to flourish.
Employees…please for the love of God, take your sick leave, vacation time, personal business, etc. You’ve earned it by being a human being. We are not machines, we get sick. We need to take the time to restore ourselves. The greater public will thank you for taking your time. I promise. Sickness slows everyone down. Don’t kid yourself….your job will be there when you return. If it isn’t? It’s likely that environment isn’t one you should have ever been working in to begin with. Trust me on that. Find you a positive work environment, one that builds you up, works as a team, and encourages you to take your time off.