Prescribing Empathy for MCs

Prescribing Empathy for MCs

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There’s a nasty bug going around Singapore that has a lot of people sneezing, coughing and sounding awfully sexy. The SippingCoconuts household was not immune to this. 4 adults, 1 toddler and 1 infant treated it as a family activity of sorts, one that we hope will be few and far in between and would be happy for never again (unlikely scenario!).

2 days ago, as I went to bed after croaking all day at work through all my meetings, both internal and external, I found myself wondering:

  • Why was I even at work? (I truly say this with a smile and bewilderment, this post isn’t filled with angst at all) Surely I was legitimately sick to actually be resting at home.
  • Was I doing the people around me right (my colleagues, my clients, the people on the train?!)? Here I am, barely audible and in pain, conducting meetings with healthy people. If I was in the company of myself in a meeting, I’d probably be disgusted and wondering how irresponsible of the sick person to be spreading the virus / germs!
  • What is it with receiving only 1 day MC when you see a doctor? So if you still don’t feel good, you are welcome to spend another 3 hours at the GP for the same diagnosis to get another day of MC?
  • Why do I need to see a doctor anyway if I know what’s wrong and can self medicate? Why is it compulsory to have a doctor issued MC? With the common cold and a lot of the more common ailments, the medicine is easily available over the counter and you need high doses of rest & water! Is it not counter-intuitive for a sick person to be out and spending roughly 3 hours surrounded by other sick people?
  • What is with the guilt associated with taking MC ? The guilt that results in us going in to work even though we are sick? The guilt of having to have work wait a day whilst we recover? Is it guilt or perhaps even a combination that “work needs me”? The world keeps spinning though, with or without you. I have come to realise that when I was on unexpected leave last year for 3 whole months followed by maternity leave.
  • What is with colleagues still asking you to do work even though they know you are on sick leave? I’m fine with urgent matters that may need a quick reply, but full blown work? Am not saying this happened recently, but it has happened in my past and to my friends.
  • What if you’re having a particularly bad year and keep falling sick? However, legitimately, you are only allowed to fall sick 14 days in a year? (tongue in cheek :p)

Questions, questions. So why was I in office that day? Honestly I didn’t even think of taking that day off, I saw I had 5 meetings and went straight in. My voice was terrible yet not a single person asked me to go home so it still didn’t cross my mind, I was thick in the action of it. As I lay down to rest that night, I could come up with possible reasons – felt guilty I was already on MC 1 day that week, the folks in office seem to work even when they clearly should be at home resting (peer pressure!), what if people think I am faking it, rescheduling 5 meetings / asking someone to stand in for me was just a logistical nightmare. So in I went and soldiered on. Quite frankly, now in hindsight, apart from rescheduling the 5 meetings, the rests are thoughts / perceived issues that should not matter. We have a limited number of areas that we actually want to focus on wholeheartedly each day, so make each of it count. When my bed hits the pillow at night, I don’t want to think – Ah, I spent my day dwelling on what Ms.X would have thought of my taking a MC again!

A few years ago I was with a different US MNC, a large corporation that had a sick leave system that I quite liked. I was entitled 5 days of sick leave without having to show a MC, the rest was to be backed with a MC. This was foreign to me and I thought it was brilliant. Of course it relies on the integrity of the individual to not treat it as – wahh, 5 more days of Annual Leave!!! A trust based system that if you spend time and hire right, you should not be too far off from an ethical employee. Hiring right, that is something my current company taught me. Spending the time to thoroughly vet through and hire right prevents issues along the way. Back to this topic though, sick leave without producing a MC is now commonly known as the Honour Sick Leave System, and is gaining momentum. Not surprisingly, start-ups embrace this system more than companies that are stuck in their old ways. Change is almost always difficult. Trust is hard to build up.

Take this company, they are trying but can’t quite decide how much to trust 😉 Neither here nor there but somewhere in between. Sorry MJ, it’s not black or white, it’s a shade of grey 😉

Meanwhile, Cartus, which provides corporate relocation services for its clients, told Channel NewsAsia staff can take sick leave without an MC for up to a day at a time. But as a way of preventing staff from abusing the system, an MC is required if they call in sick on Mondays or Fridays, before or after a public holiday and before or after approved leave.
Extracted from Channel News Asia

I trust you! I do, unless you fall sick on a Monday or Friday 😉 Conditional trust?

I’m not advocating the Honour Sick Leave System entirely as I believe in order to do that effectively, recruitment and the company’s tone has to change and enable it. More emphasis on hiring right and uncovering the value system of an individual will be crucial. The company’s tone would be key as well, empathy to a sick colleague should come first and not by the bureaucracy of a validated sick leave. I remember back in school, we had awards for kids who had perfect attendance. Cos y’know, kids don’t fall sick 😉 Was this just in school? Nay, Singapore’s flag carrier airline must have felt somewhat feverish with their performance appraisal system coming under scrutiny from MOM after the Straits Times shone the flashlight over yonder.

My general feel is that when you hire right based on values as well as capabilities, give the employees the autonomy to decide when they are feeling too off colour to show up and to call in sick without medical validation then the employee would not abuse the system. Leading from the heart and genuine empathy should do more to lift the spirits and raise employee satisfaction versus a culture that is entirely based on paperwork. Colleagues / boss who then check in with the sick colleague would then go on to promote a nurturing and caring environment. An environment like this would take a certain type of character to abuse.

Having said this, this is an industry that is ripe for disruption. 3 years ago when I was in Melbourne for a gathering of sorts of business minds near and far, I met 2 doctors who were partnering to come up with an e-consultation service so those with minor ailments need not make the trek in to the clinic and burden themselves & the clinical system. Brilliant idea! Do we have this in Singapore? Glad you asked! Yes indeed, I read about it on Vulcanpost last year and it is called MyDoc. I look forward to this service being more widely accepted as I think this is really what progress is about, improving the system in which we operate in. I’m not affiliated with MyDoc by the way, in case any of our readers are wondering.

All said and done, am glad it is the weekend. We hope to recover ASAP to enjoy the CNY cookies! Till the next post, do take care our fellow readers! To those who have the scratchy throat, this is for you <3

Photo credit: BleuBirdVintage

Author: Ms.K

Ms.K is everything that Mr.C is, without the natural interest in investing and company financials! The activity planner for the family, the driver of random ideas and soon to be ‘retiring’ in to full time motherhood – Ms.K has no idea what she’s in for but remains super excited!

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