Mara's Musings

Moments from a Mid Life Crisis
Life | Work

Is Saying No An Option?

September 8, 2017

Should we as a society continue to see convalescence as a ‘luxury we can’t afford’?  I can understand the concerns of employers especially small businesses but it seems to me to be the large national and multinational companies who are insisting on disciplining people for being unwell for more than a few days in a year even if they are certificated by a Doctor.   However, I can’t help but feel that in terms of both the human and the operational costs, these are false economies in the long run.

It seems much more common that when people become unwell there is a lot  more pressure to keep going, to not take time out to recover, because of the either real or perceived impact on other people or a corporate entity.     The impression is that people are no longer afforded the ‘luxury’ of convalescence either because their employer does not offer sick pay, they feel guilty about the effects of their absence on their colleagues or simply that their employer has a policy that you can only have a (usually ridiculously) small amount of days off ill.  I’m not sure how I could have achieved a 6 day annual sickness target when I was off sick for 5 weeks with Labyrinthitis a while back.  I couldn’t walk straight let alone work in retail!  Luckily my employer was sympathetic and supportive of a gradual return to work.

Retail is a real killer when it comes to viruses – constant contact with people and handling money which is covered in goodness knows what.  I have had people with noses literally dripping on the counter, people coughing in my face, sneezing all over the show and saying, ‘I should have stayed home today and not come shopping’.  Yes!  So why didn’t you then!?  Thanks so much for passing this on.  I can honestly say I have caught more colds, viruses and infections working in a shop than I ever did  working in hospitals!

Most of my colleagues, myself included, often turn up to or have returned to work too soon with some awful  virus  or stomach bug that is then passed on to their colleagues.  The net result is we all go off sick like dominoes – there is massive disruption and not enough people to cover those who are unwell.  No one ever gets to  recuperate from their illness, they are constantly called on days off to provide cover, their rest time is either curtailed or constantly interrupted with demands from work so they never get to fully relax, at this stage most people will get run down and tired, they get ill and the cycle starts all over again.

Ultimately if you struggle in to work with some hideous disease  or you work non-stop to the point of exhaustion you are not doing anyone any favours; certainly not your colleagues or your customers/clients and ultimately not your employer because as each domino in the stack falls the greater the disruption will be.

As an employee you are constantly under the threat of potential dismissal so it is not surprising that people return to work too soon if there is a disciplinary process after only a few days of ill health.

It is a self perpetuating cycle of misery and eventually something will give:  People will move jobs, leave the company, take early retirement or whatever or they will simply become too sick to work at all.   Then there is all the hassle of having to find new staff who are also soon in the sickness cycle and you are back to square one.

The only real solution is to not get sick and the only potential way to avoid that is to make sure you don’t get run down and exhausted.  This involves saying no and this is really difficult because it is so often perceived as and feels like a completely selfish act, especially if you know that by saying no it is going to impact on other people who are either unable or unwilling to say no themselves.    However, ultimately your input in the workplace will be better and more consistent if you are feeling on top of your game and not constantly slightly under the weather.  If you look around you, there is nearly always one or two people who consistently say no to or limit the amount of extra hours  they work and who are rarely off sick as a result.  That should be a good indication of the way forward and something employers should maybe take note of.

I wonder with the aforementioned threat of dismissal which is ever present for many in the workforce, the use of zero hour contracts as a method of ensuring people’s constant availability at the end of a telephone, and so on, whether saying no is a real option for millions of people and whether as a society our overall health and function is going to suffer as a result.





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