'Sick' of excuses

I can still remember the day one of my employees called in sick because her dog had diarrhea.

Now, I’m very sensitive to pet care because I have a dog of my own, and I personally know how debilitating gastrointestinal problems can be, particularly when they’re caused by excessive consumption of chili dogs or pepperoni pizza. However, as a manager, I had some serious misgivings about letting her dog take a company-paid sick day.

Don’t get me wrong. I love dogs, but this seemed a bit over the top, at least until she presented me with the alternative of bringing the dog into the office so she could care for it at her work station.

Back in the olden days — and I don’t want those days to return because I know my management style is too traditional for the younger generation — I would have flipped out when employees, often from Generation X, tried to abuse the policy by taking a so-called “mental health day.” To me that meant “I’m not really physically sick, but I have (pick one) a hangover, a headache or depression because (pick another one) my boyfriend,  girlfriend or pet Shih Tzu is ignoring me … or I’m afraid the world is going to end and I’ll miss the sale at J.Crew.”

The honest ones would simply proclaim, “I don’t feel like coming in today.”

I’m certainly no Jack Welch and a far cry from Pope Francis, but I always thought sick days were supposed to be used when you were actually “sick” — as in fever, chills, barfing, the runs. I know that’s a crazy, old-timer way of thinking that probably puts me in the same league as George Washington, who cut down the cherry tree and then had to take a mental health day because of the stress.

Career Builder did a survey recently that found 28% of employees have faked being sick to stay out of work. Of that group, 30% said they just didn’t want to go to work, 29% wanted a day to relax, while others needed to catch up on their sleep or go to a doctor’s appointment. Half the people surveyed said their company had a policy that allowed paid time off — but 23% lied anyway. Sounds like that group really does need a mental health day.

Among the most outrageous excuses were an employee’s plastic surgery that needed some “tweaking,” a woman breaking her ankle when she got up from the toilet because her foot fell asleep and another who claimed her dog was having a nervous breakdown. One person said a bird bit him and another got his toe stuck in a faucet.

Abuse of sick days is a sensitive workplace issue, second only to lousy food in the company vending machines and CEO bonuses. Even though — thankfully — I’m no longer a manager, I’m still suspicious of my colleagues who call in sick on Mondays and Fridays. Either they had a rough weekend or they’re preparing for a rough weekend.

Don’t they realize the astute Human Resources Department keeps a record and that some poor slob has to pick up the slack because staffs have been cut to the bone in the pursuit of higher profit margins? We can’t afford to get sick anymore.

In recent years, I’ve noticed a new phenomenon with the Millennial Generation — those 78 million young people 18 to 34 — who are determined to take every single sick day because it’s “owed” them. It’s the “use it or lose it” mentality. I’m beginning to think maybe these kids are smarter than me. However, if your company lets you accumulate sick days, you should save them for a real medical crisis, and if you’re fortunate enough to work in the public sector, where you can accumulate years of sick days, you should cash them in when you quit and take a cruise around the world.

Just beware of the norovirus … because you could get really sick as a dog with serious gastrointestinal consequences.

Joe Pisani may be reached at joefpisani@yahoo.com.