Americans give a hard side-eye to any talk of taking a sick day. The Pandemic has taught us a few chastening lessons recently, it’s true. Perhaps in today’s contagion-conscious workplaces, taking a sick day is less “suspect” than it has been in the past. But I’m dubious that will last.
This is the country of rugged individuals, at least in our imaginations. We’re tough, we tell ourselves. We plead with the coach to “put me back in, I’m fine!” even when we’re concussed. We proudly proclaim, “I can sleep when I’m dead!” and go out on our morning commute bleary-eyed and half-asleep. We “heroically” (we think) go to work, even when our nose is running like a faucet, our eyes are puffy, and our sinuses feel like concrete. And even when we thereby spread our cold, flu, or whatever to the rest of our co-workers.
Heaven forefend that we should admit weakness, even when it’s patently ridiculous not to admit we’re sick.
No One Here But Us Workaholics!
Those of us with ambitions for our careers may do anything we can, to avoid being suspected of “slacking.” I personally know people who take pride in being “workaholics.” Managers are alleged to love and reward this kind of behavior. Promotions and bonuses do seem to come often enough to the driven, that it strengthens the belief.
So people come in early. They go home late. They work toxic quantities of overtime, even on weekends. They live on their phone or computer. Notoriously, they forget, ignore, and miss family anniversaries. Kids’ birthday parties, ball games, concerts, recitals, school plays, and even graduations? They’ll skip them more often than they attend. It’s not just a cliché (guess why it’s a cliché). I’ve known real people who’ve done all of these things.
Sometimes, after they do this long enough, they only get to see their kids once in a while on “coke dates” and alternate weekends. That is, on agreed-upon, non-custodial parent visits, post-divorce. But think of the bonuses they banked!
Suspicion of Malingering
Any adult who’s been in the workplace for any length of time can attest that apparent “slackers” do exist. They watch the clock at the end of the day. If they can, they slide out early. And they have a highly suspicious habit of taking a sick day on Fridays an Mondays only.
I hate this behavior. These self-centered actions place genuinely sick people under suspicion of malingering. This means, depending on the culture where one works, that taking a sick day can give a person a bad reputation. Even if they’re really sick.
This is especially true if the boss is a self-appointed “hard-nosed capitalist” who sees all things through a lens of “time is money.” That’s why, especially in low-wage jobs where in many cases management already suspects their workers of being shiftless slackers (because they’re women, minorities economically hard-press . . . the list goes on), it’s rare to find paid sick leave.
Taking a Sick Day
I remember taking a sick day occasionally when I was a teacher. It was a disruption to my students and a burden on the administration to scare up a decent substitute. But when you’re in daily contact with the seething germ-stew that exists in most schools, even the healthiest teacher gets sick sometimes.
I’d call in for the sub feeling guilty, even if I had a temperature of 100 degrees and could barely speak. I always hoped I sounded “sick enough” on the phone, so they wouldn’t suspect me of being a slacker. I had a responsibility to take care of myself and remove my germs from the “stew.” I had a right to take those days. My reputation was anything but being a slacker. But still I felt guilty.
I still do. This Sunday I came home from DemiCon with a raging cold. I tested negative for Covid on the home test, so it’s probably a more run-of-the-mill malady. My voice was so “gone” Saturday evening for my reading that my son Tyrell Gephardt stood in for me. He saved the day delivering a very creditable “cold reading” of What’s Bred in the Bone Chapter One. I still feel pretty listless today, but I also feel guilty about missing a blog post. So I’m only taking a sick day . . . “lite.”
I took it easy with a shorter-than-usual post and some pre-made quotes (see attributions in cutlines), except I couldn’t find a rendition of the first one that I liked. It’s an unattributed quote that has been making the rounds as a meme or a square-shaped quote on an uninspiring background. It was short, so I did a DIY on the first one. Many thanks to Independent.ie for the background photo. it illustrated a good article on taking sick days. Check it out!
And now, I hope you’ll understand when I say, “That’s it. I’m taking a sick day.”