By John Gray
We begin this month’s column with a simple question—did you call in sick to work today? Note I did not ask if you were sick, merely if you called in sick. A recent survey by the fine folks at careerbuilders.com found 43 percent of us “pretended” we were sick at least once last year when we simply wanted or needed a day off. And that number is up sharply from the year before. What’s going on here? Is the American work ethic dead? Nah, I think we can blame the whole thing on the boss. Let me explain.
A good boss should know his or her people. That means actually leaving your office once every four years to know how the old troops are doing. By walking the halls and pressing the flesh you will be able to sense whether your employees are doing well or if they need what is commonly called a “mental health day”. Wouldn’t it be great to have the boss stop by and say, “Listen I heard about the vending machine taking your money and not dropping the Snickers bar so tomorrow is on me. You just sleep in bucko.” But it never happens.
Calling in sick is also often the boss’s fault because many people work in a job where if they play by the rules and do ask for a day off they won’t get it. Does this sound familiar? “Oh man, I’d love to give you the day Chuck, but we have that big project due and I just can’t get by without you. So tell your doctor you’ll have to wait on that kidney transplant until next month. Just don’t drink a lot of fluids and you’ll be fine.”
Calling in sick is almost an art form. Everyone has his or her own technique, but we all have what I like to call the “sick voice”. The idea is to talk as low and gravely as possible and prolong the pronunciation of common words to the point of moaning. Kind of like this: “Hellooooo. This is Tooooooooony. I feel awful doing this to you but I was up most of the night with this stomach thing, and….” At this point you take a ridiculously long pause and swallow hard into the receiver as if something very bad is about to happen right over the phone. This should be followed by a loud exhale and the phrase, “Mother of mercy.” The person on the other end, fearing they are going to catch what you have, will quickly cut to the chase and say. “God you sound awful. Don’t sweat it, I’ll tell them you won’t be in. Feel better.” Click. Works like a charm.
Now I would never call in sick if I wasn’t (wink, wink) but I have picked up a few tricks along the way. One of the best ways to pull it off successfully is with a pre-emptive strike. Meaning the day before you call in start leaving clues around the office. A box of tissues on the desk here, Tylenol cold medicine near the computer mouse there. And if you need several days off I suggest logging onto a website like The Plague Dot Com and leave it up on your screen for a couple of hours. That way when you do call in the next day people think, “Yeah he didn’t look right yesterday. He may be out a month.”
I mentioned earlier how important it is for the boss to get out of his or her office now and again to talk to the troops. This serves another purpose, it helps the boss and “said employee” avoid those awkward exchanges where both pretend they actually have a relationship. The following is a real conversation that I just made up in my head.
Boss: “Hey Suzie, how everything going?”
Employee: “It’s Sarah, sir.”
Boss: “Right. How’s the hubby?”
Employee: “Divorced and living with a 19-year old Albany Conquest cheerleader, but thanks for asking.”
Boss: “Oh. How are the kids holding up? These things are so tough on the little ones.”
Employee: “No kids, sir.”
Boss: “Are you sure? Who’s that little boy in the photo then? The one who needs the haircut?”
Employee: “That’s my dog sir.”
Boss: “That’s right, how is Spot?”
Employee: “It’s Spike, sir. He’s dead. Since you mention it, any chance I can have tomorrow off to bury him?”
Boss: “Tomorrow’s tough. Hey, does that cheerleader have a sister?”
Employee: “Thanks for stopping by sir, but I don’t think I can take any more bonding today.”
Boss: “Alrighty then I’ll talk to you again at the Christmas party in eight months. See ya Sasha.”
All kidding aside, I think the best way to get your employees to actually show up and care is to treat them like gold. Give raises on time, stop snooping through their desk and have a clue as to who they are outside of the office. Can’t give a bonus this year? How about throwing them a random day off just to be nice? Does the company have trade at a local restaurant that is reserved for the big clients? Tell that special secretary she and her husband are having dinner on you tonight. And above all else – offer praise. I know people are paid to be there, but trust me it’s not enough. Money is great, but nothing carries currency like an unexpected pat on the back. Show you appreciate them and they’ll show up. Unless of course it’s opening day at the track.
On that day all bets are off.
John Gray is a Fox23 News anchor and contributing writing at the Troy Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org