Friday, September 4, 2009

Long Weekends and the Need for Days Off...

I'm glad it's Friday today. I'm even more glad that it's the Friday before a long weekend. It's a happy/sad sort of weekend because while it does last three days, Labour does, typically, mean the end of summer.

I said a few months ago that summer is my least favourite season. That hasn't changed. I still prefer the colder months of the Autumn, the warming trend of Spring and, of course, the snow covered days of Winter.

Yet that is not to say I haven't enjoyed Summer. Granted, it's been a busy one for me with trips to Washington D.C., San Diego and Las Vegas. There's also that whole buying-a-house-thing, not to mention the trips to visit my family. Thus, the summer months have flown by with only time to snatch at moments, even the luxury of hours to call purely my own. I've managed to get a lot done in my house in a short time. I've managed to find time to see my family. I've even managed to keep my grass to a reasonable length even though the inevitability of having to mow makes me groan.

Yet now Summer is winding down, I can't help but hope it means life will slow a little too. It's going by too fast. The older you get, the fast life moves. I've mentioned it before but I miss the days of school where you count down until summer and the lazy, unstructured days drift by slowly until the last week when, suddenly, time is moving twice as fast as normal and the threat of structure approaches.

In those school days, however, there are marked breaks, countdown targets- Fall Break, Thanksgiving, Christmas vacation, Spring Break, Summer Break. It's not that you don't get days off when you're working but it's not the same. Most of the time, you have to fight to take the Friday off after Thanksgiving unless your company is generous. Fortunately, the company I work for is nice enough to count that as part of the Thanksgiving Break. Yet the other breaks, the summer vacation...we don't get those.

We could get those but each day off must be accounted for with PTO- the dreaded "Paid Time Off".

You'd think PTO would be a wonderful thing, a little gift in the middle of a mundane week. It an extent. Yet as a fairly new employee, it accumulates rather slowly. When you only get one day per month, it doesn't add up fast. It looks rather nice to have five days displayed on your paystub. It's rather like having a nice healthy bank account. Yet the minute you spend it, it's like spending gold. You debate it, you run it through your mind, you mentally calculate whether it's a smart choice to take a day off or not.

The worst part is when the PTO is representative of both sick time and vacation time. At our company, there is no difference. You take PTO regardless of if you're going to Hawaii or if you're suffering from the flu. It's a nice, easy policy but, naturally, it's not without its problems.

You see, when people are low on PTO time, they don't want to take time off. Thus, when they don't feel well, they'd rather drag themselves to the office and suffer through the day than have to deduct a day from their fragile accumulation.

You can see the problem with this, right? Yes...for certain periods of the year, the office becomes an Incubator of Disease. All it takes in a small company like this is for some poor suffering employee who is low on PTO to come into the office and cough and sneeze. Lo and behold, the next day, two more people are coughing and sneezing. A week later, almost the entire company is sick.

I know it's not just my company. It happens everywhere. It's happened in virtually every job I've had. I had one job at a hospital in which you were actually docked if you took time off. You would accumulate points for every lateness, every sick day, every sick hour. If you missed any time, you'd get points. Too many points in a month and you were on probabation. If you already had a probation and you got more points, that was were gone.

Can you see this problem with this? It was a hospital, a place where people go to get well. When the employees are walking around like zombies because they have the flu, guess where that flu is going to go. Yes....everywhere.

I understand the need for companies to be at their maximum productivity all the time. Without employees, companies lose money. Unfortunately, what I've never understood is that isn't it better to have a day or two with only a few employees missing than have weeks of slowed productivity because everyone is sick?

My problem is that I think with common sense. Even when I type that sentence, I laugh at myself. I pride myself on being a little odd, thinking outside of the box because that's where I tend to live. It doesn't mean I don't have common sense, however. Even I can see that giving employees a little more sick time will encourage them to, you know, stay home when they're sick.

I can hear the voice of Management in my head: "If we give them more sick time, they'll just pretend to be sick and take time off. Then, when they're really sick, they'll still come in. It does no good."

To this, I say....perhaps. Yes, there are employees who call in sick when they're not. There are employees with children who have to take sick time to take care of them. Then, they run out of sick time, catch the illness from the children and bring it to the office.

I get that. I get the logic behind restricting sick time. It doesn't mean I like it. It also doesn't mean I'm not sensitive enough to think that sometimes, you have to take a chance and cut your losses in order to do something that's 'right.' Yes, employees will take sick days, they'll take "Mental Health Days" and not come into work.

You know what I say to this? Let them. I speak from experience when I say sometimes taking a Mental Health Day is necessary. There are times when you haven't had a day off for weeks. Weekends don't count because usually they're so jam packed that relaxion is put on the back burner. You work all day and you get to the point where you just feel like you're not getting anything done because you feel trapped. That's where Mental Health Days come in. Sometimes that's all you need to recharge. They're days when you stay home, watch stuff you've had recorded on your DVR for months, read a trashy book...basically, you do nothing.

Everyone needs those days. We're human. There's only so long you can go without taking time to think, to relax before you feel like the world is spinning out of control.

In one job I had, we had "personal days", these could be used whenever, without having to give notice. The boss I had was a strong endorser of Mental Health Days. She was a good manager because she understood that sometimes taking one day to recuperate meant more productivity in the long run than not missing a day at all.

I can see why Management in most companies don't like letting employees take advantage of them by calling in sick when they're not sick. Thus, that's one of the strategies in limiting PTO. Yet, that's looking at the half-empty glass. In most companies for every one 'slacker', there's five people who make up for it. If there's nothing but slackers, well, honestly, in that case, I'd say to Management that they need to take a strong look at the way they run their company. You should never have a company full of people who can't be bothered to work. If you do...something's wrong.

Anyway, I digress. It's Labour Day weekend. It's the last long weekend before the nights get a little longer and the leaves start turning their beautiful colours. It's the last long weekend to enjoy the summer and celebrate its rewards. I, for one, am looking forward to it even if it's not going to be particularly productive. I'm heading to my parents which means no time for working at home but it doesn't matter. There'll be plenty of time for that in the future.

Happy Labour Day.

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