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July 21, 2008

‘Out Sick’ is Out!


I think you should work when you’re sick. You probably think I’m Hitler. But work isn’t what it used to be, and because of that, neither is getting sick.


About two weeks ago, I needed some information from a guy. The guy e-mailed me the information, but it was incomplete. When I sent him a reply letting him know that I needed some of it explained more fully, I got no reply for two business days. So I called him. I got his standard voice mail greeting, so I left a message. Again, no reply.


Three days later, I called him again. This time, he answered his phone, and was probably sorry he had.


“I was out sick two days!” he said. “Then when I got back I was in meetings, and since then I’ve been swamped. I’m just now trying to get caught up.”


So let me see if I have this straight. Dingleberry comes down with something, informs his boss that he won’t be in to work . . . and that’s it. E-mails and voice mails directed to his attention end up in an indefinite Out Sick Limbo. If his attention is needed on any matter whatsoever, too bad.

He is Out Sick.


Now, let’s assume for the moment that when he left work on the last day before his affliction hit, he had no idea this was coming. So he didn’t have time to ask anyone to cover for him. He didn’t have time to pick up the phone on his desk and change his voice mail greeting or forward his calls.




The next morning, Dingleberry wakes up with the sniffles, the sweats or a knot in his stomach. He calls the boss and says he can’t come to work. He will be Out Sick.


Somewhere along the line, we got the idea that when you are Out Sick, you are also off the hook for any responsibility whatsoever. You cannot be expected to make a call, take a call, check with someone or – God forbid – work on anything. Regardless of what may need to be done, you don’t have to do it. Not when you’re Out Sick.


Now there is sick and there is sick. Having surgery, rushed to the ER, on the verge of death – that’s one thing. That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about most applications of Out Sick, which mean you feel achy, funny or strangely fatigued. (Did I mention hung over? Never mind!)


Settled wisdom of the work world is that achy-, funny- or strangely fatigued-feeling people need to stay home, recover and get their rest. And that means they can’t get any work done, because a) work happens at work, which they can’t get to when they’re getting their rest; and b) work is inconsistent with rest.


This thinking certainly made sense as recently as the late 1980s. But does it today?


How many people lack Internet access at home? Dingleberry has a MySpace and a Facebook. He must have a computer at home. He wouldn’t be doing those things at work, now would he? Most every voice mail system allows for remote access from your home and cell phone.


If you can’t access your work e-mail remotely from your home computer, you could certainly call or e-mail a colleague and ask them to check it for you or forward it to you. (“Now Bob, don’t read any e-mails from someone called Roxy. They’re, uh, a mistake! Yeah. A mistake.”)


Basically, there are few impediments to doing one’s job for a day or two from home. But is it reasonable for your boss to expect you to attend to things when your head is stuffy, your nose is running and you’re doubled over in some sort of nondescript pain?


This boss says it is. Reading your e-mail and talking on the phone for a few minutes isn’t going to delay your recovery, and you’d concentrate just as hard on that online Scrabble game you’ll sit on the couch and play for three hours.


Hey. I’m paying you for the sick day. If you want a vacation day, take a vacation day. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s time to retire the concept of Out Sick. We’ll just replace it with Working Remotely While Panting and Wheezing.


Something tells me any company that enacts this policy will see sick day usage reduced to approximately zero. With bosses like me around, being sick is just no fun.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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