Sick, Tired, Sick & Tired or Just Plain Lazy

Yesterday I did something I have never done before:  I left work early because I felt sick.   In retrospect and with the benefit of knowing how I feel today, I know it was nothing much.  I was just really tired and my body ached all over.  I now believe I just didn’t get enough sleep and a pulled muscle in my back was radiating discomfort through the rest of my body. It is better today.  I usually would have just ignored it, but I guess I succumbed to all that hysteria about the H1N1 flu, which BTW doesn’t seem as big a deal as we all feared.

Sick of sickness

I felt a little bad about bugging out yesterday and on the way to work this morning, I thought about sick leave.   I have a lot of it saved up.  In the USG, you earn four hours of sick leave every pay period (two weeks) & can carry your sick leave balance over to the next year.   I have saved more than 2300 hours, which comes to about a year and a half of work time when you count in normal holidays.   I always thought of it as a kind of disability insurance policy.   Who needs AFLAC when you have SL?   I am lucky that I just don’t get sick very often, but I also don’t allow little discomforts to keep me home.  For example, I would not normally have taken sick leave for something like yesterday. Life is full of little discomforts; most don’t matter.

The whole concept of sick leave is interesting, when you think of it.  We get annual leave (vacation) and then we get sick leave.   We are not supposed to mix them, but a lot of people do.  A significant number of people use every hour of both each year.  Sometimes I suppose they really are sick; sometimes not and sometimes I think the definition of “sick” is stretched past normal credulity.  

Sick on Mondays and Fridays

As a manager, I noticed that sickness tended to happen more often on Mondays and Fridays and some people were consistently sick whenever some sort of difficult assignment was on the horizon.  It is a tough call sometimes.   Ostensibly you have to respect that people get sick. But you are very often faced with a simple choice.  Either the person is there or not. If they are not there, they cannot work. Whether the reason is good or bad, not showing up takes away a chance to succeed.   Since success tends to build on itself, if you don’t show up a lot you will have a lot more trouble succeeding.  

All success depends first on just showing up

Is that fair?  The chronically absent tend to think not, but what can you do?   I did an informal poll at my table during one my senior training last year.  It is hard to get into the SFS, so getting there is a measure of success. There were six people at my table and we all had thousands of hours of unused sick leave.   It was not a statistically valid sample but I think it makes sense.   Of course the causality is unclear. Do successful people get sick less often?  Are they sick less often because they are successful?  Do they just not abuse sick leave as much?   Correlation is not causality, but you can learn lessons from it nevertheless. 

I earn more than two weeks of sick leave a year, which I don’t use, so that means that I work two weeks more than I would if I took off.  In the course of my career, I have worked about a year and a half longer than someone who took off all the sick days allowed.  It stands to reason that additional time on task will probably yield better results.

I don’t believe that you should come to work when you have some contagious sickness and I don’t.  But that just doesn’t account for very much time. My general rule is to assume I am doing something I want to do, a vacation.  Would I let whatever I am feeling stop me from doing that?  If the answer is no, I should also go to work.

My parents taught me good habits. I don’t remember my father EVER taking a sick day. I suppose he did, but not often enough that you would notice. When I said I was sick he would tell me some stories about the depression or the war. He also told a story about his cousin, Eddy Wysoki, who evidently drank a whole bottle of rubbing alcohol. That made him really sick. I guess ordinary sickness wasn’t invented yet back then. My mother let me stay home from school any time I claimed I was sick.  The catch was that I had to stay in my room and rest on the assumption that if I was sick enough to stay home, I was too sick to play.  I still recall an instance when I was legitimately sick in the morning, but recovered.  Nevertheless, I couldn’t play with my friends outside after school. I thought it was unjust, but it was a lesson I obviously still remember.

How to handle too much sick leave

The problem with accumulating sick leave is that it goes to waste when you leave the government service.  That is why I was happy to hear that the Congress has decided to tack ½ of the total sick leave hours onto our time in work for retirement purposes. That means that I will have an extra six months of credible Federal Service when I retire.  If you retire after 2014, you will get the whole time credited.  It makes sense, since as I wrote above I did indeed work that extra year. The USG was having some trouble with absenteeism.  

There is the incentive to just be sick.  I mean, who doesn’t feel sleepy in the morning? Could it be sickness?  Maybe we better sleep a little more to make sure.   Feeling a little winded after climbing some stairs?  Maybe better go home and rest.  When you have a year’s worth of sick leave that you will just forfeit and you plan to work for less than a year, such things begin to make sense.

I remembered a stanza from the Book of the Tao. It really doesn’t make much sense, but it kind of applies here.

Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – chapter 71

Knowing ignorance is strength.
Ignoring knowledge is sickness.

If one is sick of sickness, then one is not sick.
The sage is not sick because he is sick of sickness.
Therefore he is not sick.