Am I “sick enough” to take sick leave?

22 Aug

Am I “sick enough” to take sick leave?

I am writing this blog from the (relative) comfort of a chair on my balcony on my very own sick leave day. I injured my back and so rather than have to spend some of my work day laying on the floor of the office, whinging to my colleagues and generally having them feel sorry for me, I decided to tap into my sick leave kitty and take the time my body needs to repair (along with a trip to a health professional to work their magic too). And after the 2-hour nap that my tired brain needed after a long night of tossing and turning, slowly with very controlled movements, and a cup of tea propped up on pillows, I already feel so much better!

But now the guilts have snuck in. It’s 11:30am and if I am well enough to sit and read a book, then I must be well enough to be at work?!

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the “Glorification of Busy” and how, ultimately, being “sooo busy” can actually be a poor reflection on your self-management, delegation and balance of priorities; rather than something to wear as a badge of honour to show you are more important than everyone else. While many of us now know this, and accept it to be true, we still find ourselves responding to the age old ‘How’ve you been?’ or ‘How’s work going?’ by saying “Busy!” usually accompanied by a weary sigh or frantic eye-brow raise.

Something else that I believe has manifested itself alongside the glorification of busy, probably in combination with the Australian culture of just ‘hardening up’ and ‘getting on with it’, is the reluctance of many hardworking individuals to take a sick day – even when, and in some cases especially when, they are actually sick!

Sick and Carer’s Leave is a workplace right, and all full-time employees are entitled to accrue 10 days of this leave per year; pro-rata for part-timers. This leave is to be used when either the employee, or a member of their immediate family or household, is ill or injured or the employee is required to help during a family emergency.

So why are we so reluctant to exercise this workplace right if we are ill or injured? I believe there is an unwritten culture in many of our workplaces that suggests you should continue coming to work until you can’t physically remove yourself from bed. We feel guilty because Colleague A came to work when he was coughing up a lung and Colleague B had an hour’s sleep with a sick child but she sent them off to Grandma’s and managed to be at her desk by 8:30am. But are these colleagues really fully engaged in their work, or would it be more appropriate for them to utilise 7.6 hours of their Sick and Carer’s Leave balance to rest, recuperate and set an example to the rest of us.

I challenge you to think twice next time you believe you’re being a model employee by struggling on and dragging yourself in to work. Take the time you are entitled to, to ensure when you do head back to work that you can be a fully functioning, non-whinging, member of the team!


Kateena Mills , HR Advisor

Kateena combines the skill and knowledge she has acquired through working both in Australia and overseas to make a meaningful contribution to an organisation and its HR function. She loves to assist companies in developing strong values and purpose and create amazing workplaces for their employees.

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