Recently at a conference, I met some middle managers with a sad tale they were only too eager to share.
Senior leaders revamped the sick leave policy at XYZ, Inc. to save a few bucks. Under the new employee benefits policy, employees are required to use annual leave for the first 3 days of any illness. After 3 days, they may start accessing sick leave.
“Wow,” I said. “So if I stay home with a migraine, that’s a vacation day?”
“Yep,” they answered. Some vacation, I thought. A cruise to the Bahamas pales in comparison!
“How’s that working for ya?” I asked, trying to keep my sarcasm under wraps. Okay, I admit I didn’t try that hard.
“Not so great,” they answered.
Now, when people are sick, they routinely stay out for 4 or more days rather than the former 1 or 2. Employees are out longer because they valiantly soldier through early symptoms before succumbing when illnesses worsen and FMLA situations are way up. Of course, some people stay out longer because they are pissed off; they are going to stay home long enough to use their sick leave, dangit!
XYZ’s morale has plummeted. The new sick leave policy is a disaster, my new friends told me, and everyone knows it backfired except the CEO and his inner circle who seem totally oblivious to the destruction around them.
I don’t mind saying I felt a certain amount of judgment and moral superiority for several days as I thought about XYZ’s misguided move.
I shared the story more than once, and upon hearing it, people usually gasped, “Is that legal?” I’m no lawyer, but in general I think it is. In some cases though, XYZ risks violating at least one law, Maryland’s Flexible Leave Act. But more to the point, it feels wrong morally and is a really bad business idea.
I was feeling kind of righteous. A lot righteous, actually. Then I opened my ears and realized I was hearing complaints about leave benefits all around me online, at conferences, and even in the halls of my own office.
- John repeatedly forfeiting annual leave because his workload precluded the luxury of a vacation anytime in the near future.
- Common complaints of people feeling permanently connected to work through wifi, laptops and smart phones even on the weekends or on vacation; they can’t truly get away.
- An hourly worker, with unpredictable assignments that frequently leave her several hours shy of 40, who uses annual leave to make up the difference. While she wouldn’t mind doing this occasionally (and in fact might be grateful for the buffer in those cases), habitually relying on annual leave to attain a full paycheck takes the wind out of her vacation sails.
- Anthony going to work in great pain the day after having two teeth extracted because his boss expected him at an important quarterly meeting; missing the meeting simply wasn’t an option on any level.
I thought of all these stories and asked myself whether the XYZ’s sick leave policy is in fact all that much more reprehensible than any of the other scenarios I list. In reality, they all fall way short of the ideal.
Organizations spend gazillions of dollars on employees benefits yet the full value of employee benefits is experienced by neither employees nor management. Employees are already feeling the pinch of high health insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays and their benefit packages feel less valuable even though we’re contributing more than ever. When we make people jump through hoops to take a much needed sick or vacation day, we’re leaving a bad taste in our employees’ mouths and we’re throwing our money down the drain.
Let’s stop doing this.
Photo by zzathras777