A truly sick policy

society, workplace

Sick for more than seven days per year? At the ironically-named Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, ill employees have a very direct choice: After seven previous absences, come in sick or be fired.

This policy is so transparently stupid, I’m almost embarrassed to blog about it. But kindly allow me to offer a few thoughts anyway.

The Mercy Medical Center (“MMC”) sick-days policy will help achieve the following:

– Mild endangerment of employees’ health, and perhaps fatal results for infection-susceptible patients
Think about it. How smart is it to basically force coughing, sneezing, infectious people to come to work, especially at a hospital?!

– Decreased productivity
Mom was definitely right about one thing: One can lick illnesses like the flu much more quickly by resting rather than working. Beyond this, it’s common knowledge that trying to “push through” an upper-respiratory illness can result in a significant worsening of symptoms and overall health. So by coercing mildly-ill folks to come into work, MMC is trading off initial productivity (assuming sick folks can actually do good work) for longer-term productivity losses.

– Loss of workplace trust and morale
This is, of course, unquantifiable, but when your employer you with more suspicion than a truant officer handles a no-good kid, how dedicated will you be torwards your company’s success? Kids who fail to be granted trust and respect from their elders often rebel by cleverly and silently subverting authority. How long before MMC notices pilfered funds, stolen workplace items, and so on? And how many employees would rush to snitch on the wrongdoers?

– Hampered recruiting
This one’s simple: Would YOU be excited to apply for a position that heavyhandedly treats its employees with such mistrust? Didn’t think so.

In comparison, I’ve been fortunate enough to work for much more enlightened companies. At both Ascena and Niehaus Ryan Wong, mildly sick people were often invited to work from home for a day or two; more severely sick people were simply told to just take some days off, and then do their best to catch up when they returned.

Google has the simplest and most reasonable policy. Sick days are to be taken “as needed.” It’s a sad commentary on our American society when such a common-sense approach is the admirable exception rather than the rule.

And fairness/compassion issues aside, I’m willing to bet that the aforementioned three companies have enjoyed considerably higher worker productivity than MMC.

The broader lesson to learn? The best firms treat their employees as adults — with trust, respect, and honesty — and expect the same in return.

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