Culture of suspicion over sickies must change


Answer: This is an excellent question on a subject which I’m certain causes endless and unnecessary angst in the workplace.

Friendly co-workers asking if you’re OK after time off is one thing – a benign thing, usually. But busybodies and clockwatchers feigning concern in an attempt to break down your “alibi” for a crime you haven’t committed is another thing entirely.

I’m always reluctant to make generalisations, but these people spend hours of their workdays keeping detailed notes and ledgers on trivialities like other people’s sick days and then self-assess their work-ethic as “exceptional”.

If they themselves become ill. they put on the most lurid pantomime performance, ”bravely” returning to work after a long weekend wrestling cholera-esque symptoms for what everyone knows was a minor cold.

But I digress. The point is that you shouldn’t have to put on a show as a kind of pay-off or penance for a day off work. Well, that’s what I think, and it turns out so does Dr Linda Dalton. She’s a self-employed psychologist who consults to individuals and organisations.

“Ah, Mr Hart. What a mess we’ve made. We are all guilty of conspiring in the continuation of a workplace culture of lying to gain a day to keep all the juggling balls of life in the air,” Dr Dalton says.

“A day to clean the house because the real estate agent will inspect it tomorrow, a day to watch Johnny come in last at the school sports, another to wipe up the tears because he did come last. What if we just, within reason of course, could have a day off – no questions asked?”

I worry that at some point we worshipped so hard at the altar of Efficiency and put so much store in the concept of “more with less”, we squeezed things too tight, pared things too far. We made it so that in many offices losing a single person for a single day became a huge burden.

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Sick days became a great inconvenience. (Curious that this rationalised machine can still whirr on while carrying time-wasting inquisitors, but I suppose every system has its anomalies.)

I think the answer to your question is that you shouldn’t have to avoid interrogations. The whole structure that brings about a culture of suspicion should change.

Chucking sickies, chucking colleagues under the bus, chucking monos on the ride into the office. You can ask Work Therapy about any work-related chucking. Email jonathan@theinkbureau.com.au

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