Self-care is something that too many of us overlook. We’re often pressured to work long past our capacity. In many cases, we need the money and calling out just isn’t an option. When I was running pizzas, taking a sick day not only meant that I would lose the the money I would have made that day, my boss was petty and vindictive. Calling out meant that my hours for the next couple weeks would be cut back. As a result, I worked on many days that I shouldn’t have. One time I went to work with a horrible toothache, took an hour to get it drilled and temporized, picked up some prescription ibuprofen, and went back to work. Other times I worked through debilitating back pain, cold and flu where I was obviously sick and showing up on someone’s doorstep with food, or working in weather conditions that most sane people stay home in.
I gained a reputation for being a die-hard employee who rarely took a sick day, not that it got me any bonus points. In eight years at the pizzeria, I called out less than ten times. I didn’t get paid sick days or personal days. We got one week of use it or lose it vacation which few drivers took advantage of because we only got 40 hours of base pay, which was sub-minimum wage. It was a net loss for us to take vacation. As a result, I used it sporadically and only for 2-4 days in one given week.
This past weekend, we had a major blizzard in the Northeast. Starting early Saturday morning, the storm lasted all day and well into the evening, dumping 28″ of snow in the town I work in. I was in the house from 9 AM Saturday until 5 PM on Sunday. I had a fleeting nap overnight, as staff was allowed to rotate and try to get a little sleep. My clients had other ideas, so sleep was not forthcoming. 32 straight hours, and I was awake a total of 37 before I finally collapsed into bed.
Before I did, I called the office and said I wasn’t coming in on Monday.
I shamed myself a little bit even though I was really in no condition to be back at it by 9 AM. Yet, my employer did not shame me. They… understood. When I came into work today I didn’t get a nasty look, didn’t get a guilt trip from the person who ended up covering my shift. My supervisor and I had a laugh about how I spent my recovery day, watching Breaking Bad on my couch with a box of Cheez-Its wrapped in my favorite blanket. Good gods how I needed that time. They understood.
It baffles my mind that many companies take such a hostile view on employees who need a recovery day here or there. Weekends are great and all, but we’re not machines, and not all of us have weekends off. We get tired, we get sick, we get hurt. You would think that businesses wouldn’t want people coming to work full of communicable illnesses or in a physical/mental state where getting one’s job done is near impossible. Pardon me for getting on my political soapbox here, but the truth is that paid sick days or personal days should be required. Employees don’t have to use them but they should be available, and until labor law requires it, few companies, especially those on the low-to-middle wage range, aren’t going to do it voluntarily. Unless it’s a cost borne by all businesses, few businesses will implement it on their own, and what happens is you get the spread of sickness, poor job performance, job stress and dissatisfaction, and a feeling of worthlessness to your employer. That’s exactly how I felt when I was at the pizza shop. I’m grateful that I work for a company now that understands that we are human, and that, especially when they ask a lot from us during a weather emergency, they’re absolutely fine with the occasional recovery day.