Thursday, January 24, 2008

No Sick Days In Parenthood

I hab a code in by nose. Actually, almost everyone in our household is sick again, but you know what? There are no sick days in parenthood. Over at The 36-Hour Day, I explore the phenomenon of "Presenteeism," also sometimes known as "The office is the only place where a working mom can get any rest."

I'm sick. Again.

(Of course, I'm at work. Why do you ask?)

The other night, my husband remarked that, in the past few months, both he and I have been sick more frequently than ever before. But why? Sure, we're overworked, but not any more than we've always been. We've been eating more healthily, exercising more often -- OK, that's a lie, he's been exercising, I've been, um... look over there! Something shiny!

Really, though, we couldn't figure out why we were caught in this cycle of sinus headaches and hacking coughs. We feebly tossed around a few more ideas (is it the weather? Do we need vitamins?) while my husband reminded our 3-year-old to cover her mouth when she sneezed and I wiped the baby's streaming nose for the umpteenth time, and then it hit us ...


This is the first year that any of our kids' have been in daycare. They're thriving and socializing and learning amazing new things. They're also coming into contact with amazing new germs that they bring home and generously share with the rest of us.

Recently, all five of our kids were sick at once, taking turns spiking fevers and playing "toilet roulette." My husband took a few days off, and I was psyched to hightail it to my office rather than work from home (editing copy is a breeze when you don't have a fevery 9-year-old watching "The Suite Life of Zach and Cody" at top volume 10 feet away while his woozy 11-year-old sister races to the bathroom to regurgitate a pint of blue Gatorade).

Besides the obvious (no diapers to change at the office, though there are plenty of metaphorical blowouts) the biggest difference between my full-time job as a newspaper editor and my full-time job as a mother is this: There are no sick days in parenthood.

But, even though I am lucky enough to get sick days at work, I rarely take them when I'm sick.I'll weigh the pros and cons of sending a coughing kid to school or daycare, but I tend to assume that I'll be heading in to the office whether I'm hacking up a lung or not. Toddler has a fever of 100.5 degrees? She's staying home. Mom has a fever of 102 or more? See-ya-later-buh-bye, I'm going to work.

Studies have shown that "presenteeism" -- when sick employees show up to work -- can actually hurt a business, resulting in everything from a decreased productivity to lower product quality to actual monetary losses of about $150 to $250 billion annually.

But if it's so bad for business, why do so many people haul their aching and sniffling selves into the office? Lots of reasons. Some people simply don't have enough -- or any -- sick days. Some fear they'll be penalized for not putting in enough face time. Some feel bound by deadlines, others feel guilty for being "a burden" to their coworkers. And there's another reason -- one that, maybe, you have to be a working mom to really understand...

Sometimes, the office is the only place where you can get any rest.

Read the rest here, and tell me: What do you do when you're sick? Do you take time for yourself?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This sounds insane. The whole presenteeism thing does get a lot of play, and it’s understandable since we’re all running the race trying to get everything done, and everyone cared for. But to not be able to rest when you need to is ludicrous. I’m really waiting for more workplaces to adopt the ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment) mindset. It sounds like it’s working famously at Best Buy’s corporate headquarters and people are actually able to rest whenever they want. A study by the University of MN proves it at The creators of ROWE, Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, have a great blog, too –