Darryl Stewart
By Darryl Stewart
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You can’t manage sick days

Management is what you do to things.

Leading is what you do with people.

Treating people like things never gets you far and does more harm than good.

pills spilling out of bottle
Photo by bigblockbobber

For instance, one HR “best practice” is to require doctor’s notes for sickness. This practice is intended to ensure that each sickness is legitimate and that employees do not take advantage of sick leave. The thinking is “this is an important cost to manage so we must have a management process around it”.

The problems with this practice are:

  • Those that are lying about their sickness have no trouble getting a doctor’s note. Doctors are not trained in lie detection in strangers.
  • Those that are legitimately sick are inconvenienced at a time when they least need it (when they are sick), demoralizing them and reducing their engagement with your organization.
  • Our health care system is burdened with a totally unnecessary expense and our doctors and other professionals are forced to do our dirty work for us.

If your kid claims to be sick, do you send him to a walk in clinic to determine if you think he is faking or do you use your experience with the kid to figure out what is going on and make your best judgement?

Taken back into a workplace context: does an otherwise great employee suddenly start faking sickness? Unlikely. Does a demotivated person in a job they hate start abusing sick days? More likely. Leaders will look at the use of sick days, the employee involved, and then decide the course of action required in each specific situation.

Management is about making systems. Leadership involves making your best judgments and acting on them. Leaders treat “people” situations as they need to be treated because they know that there is no management system that works on people issues.

Thanks to Linton Sellen for inspiring this post.

  1. if a policy is in that you can bank your sick days, you will find most all employees want to bank them. Say one sick day per month if not used. You will see many will never use them. So who really does get sick??”? You will soon see one or two needs help in finding out what the problem is and it wo’t be a health problem.

    • Great comment Wayne! As you say, the issues with sick days are often not related to sickness. Great leaders take the time to understand the real issues and deal with them on their merits instead of hiding behind processes that are one size fits all.