German Sick Days

Normally a sore throat and a headache isn’t much to write home about.  But, today, as I woke up with both, I had a choice to make.  Back home, working for the same company I would have just gone to work.  Sure, I wasn’t feeling great, but I wasn’t seriously ill either.  I would have made it through the day, gotten some work done and possibly be feeling better too.  More likely, I’d probably be fully sick by noon.   (This has happened to me a few times)  Then the next day, I’d wake up, still sick, and stay home from work.  While at home I’d spend the day checking my work e-mail, attending meetings over the phone and trying to do work all in between a few naps.  I usually don’t get any healthier and by the second day of being at home I might even go to see a doctor if things aren’t progressing. Although usually it’s a waste of his time.  After a few more days of half working and half staying home I’d eventually get better and return to work.  Ultimately I’d say an average cold might last 3 to 5 days from start to finish and I’d probably miss a minimum of 2 days of work.

But now, I work for a German version of the same company.  Here in Germany, if you aren’t feeling well, then you are sick.  If you are sick, then you must stay home until you are better.  It’s very clear cut, you don’t work, you don’t check e-mail, and you certainly don’t call into meetings from home.  As long as you are sick, your job to the company is to get better as quickly as possible.

So which way is better?  Are Germans weak or are they taking an easy opportunity to skip out on work?

I predict, tomorrow I’ll wake up feeling better and ready to go to work. (knock on wood)  If so, than I’ll miss only one full day of work instead of at least 2+. (Counting an extra day of lost productivity where I’m at work but either getting sick or still getting better and mostly ineffective)  In addition, at home I am more likely to waste medical resources where the more serious cold could have been avoided.

Germans have been known to tout a great work/life balance yet still be incredibly efficient workers. I think this sick day policy is an example of how it’s embedded into their culture.  Maybe this is one easy way to contain our rising costs of healthcare; stay home if you don’t feel well.  You aren’t saving the world if you go to work sick, in fact you could be making it worse.  But that’s a whole different topic, for now I’ll go back to my naps.

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