I had a bit of a writer’s block this week, but after a Twitter incident last night, I would like to talk about how we view work in the United States. This all stems from a tweet by a candidate for the US Senate where he posted a photo with a server “who came to work sick because she knew they were short-staffed.” This tweet is not only wrong in my opinion, but it also shows a violation of the Ohio Food Handling Code. Anyway, we’ll let the proper authorities sort that out, on to the sermon.
When I saw the tweet that I referenced above, my immediate thought was, “That’s always been the American way for some reason.” There are people in the US who feel that taking a sick day is a sign of weakness. In America, we work at least 40 hours per week, get two weeks of vacation or paid time off (PTO). When I first started working in the corporate environment, if somebody called in sick the office rumor mill fired up saying either that the subject in question wasn’t even sick and just wanted a day off, or that they were looking for another job. I think both of these are worthy of a closer look.
If the person calling in isn’t actually sick and just wanted a day off, why should this be a problem at all? If I’m running a company and people feel like they have to be there on a day that their hearts or brains aren’t engaged in the work, I don’t want them there. There is no shame in saying, “I need to take a mental health day,” or simply, “I need a day to recharge.” I’m lucky to work for a boss who has told me to take a day off when I need it. This helps to avoid burnout, which is the leading cause to the second rumor mill statement.
If you’re burned out in your job, why wouldn’t you look for a new one? Admittedly, I haven’t had much experience with this since I ended up out of jobs through no choice of my own. If an employee appears to be burned out to his/her coworkers, then by all means, look for another job and let the company fill that position with somebody who wants to do it. Working through burnout is not fun and while I haven’t had many opportunities, I did have at least one in this century.
I was working as a contractor at a company for pretty decent money and when I first started there, it was a straight 40 hour per week job…for the first week. At the end of the second week, on Friday at 4:15pm (15 minutes before quitting time), the supervisor comes down and tells the department, “Everyone has to work tomorrow. No exceptions.” Well, OK, one Saturday won’t be too bad. Then it became a regular thing every week. Then, while outside lunch, one day, the bigger boss says loudly, “You better kiss your families goodbye, because everyone will be working twelves for the foreseeable future.” He sounded gleeful when he said it, too. I ended up working for two straight weeks, 12 hours per day and my brain knew it.
I called the contractor company I worked through and told them I was done at the end of that week. My agent said, “Just think of all that money you’re making with that overtime.” The money wasn’t the issue as you know. The fact that I was burned out so quickly from a job was a major issue. This was only four months into this assignment and I was toast. I had a blog at the time, but I wasn’t able to write anything. During that two week stretch my days were as follow: Wake up at 5am, drink a cup of coffee, drive a half hour to work at 5:30am, work twelve and a half hours (includes lunch), drive a half hour home at 6:30pm, shovel down dinner, shower, and go to bed by 9pm. I did this for two straight weeks.
Why do we tend to treat people who work long hours for not much pay and go to work sick like real American heroes? I think it’s because of the image that it portrays. People who work through illness and burnout look like they’re working harder than everyone else, even though they’re making more mistakes and getting less done. That’s the American way, work harder, not smarter. And it looks like our Senate candidate from the first paragraph fully embraces this ideal.